Monday, October 21, 2013

book review: My Education by Susan Choi

The basics: When Regina Gottlieb begins a graduate program in English at a prestigious upstate New York university, she was familiar with the rumors about Professor Nicholas Brodeur. When she accepts a job as his teaching assistant, the novel takes off.

Note: This review references some minor spoilers. All spoilers discussed are mentioned in the publisher's summary, which means some may not consider them spoilers, but as I reader, I did.

My thoughts: I have somewhat complicated thoughts about My Education. I adore novels about higher education, and this one started off thoroughly enmeshed in the culture of both the university and a town that sound very much like Cornell and Ithaca, New York to me. Regina is a fascinating enough character, and as Choi makes her intentions clear, my interest was certainly piqued. As a reader, I was surprised the first twist of sorts was soon followed by my own disengagement with the characters.

The middle of My Education was at times tough-going for me. I was certainly interested enough to see what would happen, but my interest stemmed from my curiosity of what Choi would make these characters do--I never felt the characters were real enough to drive the momentum of the story. Her writing was excellent, and the commentary on academic culture was close to perfect. Perhaps the strength of those elements also over-shadowed the characters somewhat. Because I read with a critical eye to construction rather than one of plot and character engagement, this middle section lagged for me. The summary of the book references a time jump, and largely because of this knowledge, I expected it to come much earlier. (Once again, I call for a rule that summaries mention nothing that is not revealed in the first half of the book, and I'd personally prefer nothing after the first quarter, but I know that's unlikely.)

Once the time jump happens, however, I was enchanted. For the first time, I realized I had no inkling where Choi was taking these characters. How much of them would be the same and how much would not? Regina goes from being realistically childlike to an adult, and I was eager to see how many of her annoying traits she managed to grow out of. This last section of the book was thoroughly enjoyable, but as I turned the last page, I still found myself questioning the pace of this novel. Perhaps it's a case of my fascination with life now, in my thirties, that I would have been satisfied with less emphasis on the past as it was and more emphasis on the past as it is remembered.

Favorite passage: "At that moment, I think we each genuinely believed ourselves to be the protagonist, and the other a naive and pardonable walk-on whose role might even have a tragic end."

The verdict: Although the pacing and emphasis on certain times seemed off to me, Choi's writing and observations were astute and thought-provoking throughout. While I didn't completely adore this novel, it did make me a fan of Choi, and I'm eager to explore her backlist while I wait for her next novel.

Rating: 4 out of 5
Length: 305 pages
Publication date: July 3, 2013
Source: publisher

Convinced? Treat yourself! Buy My Education from Amazon (Kindle edition.)

Want more? Visit Susan Choi's website and like her on Facebook.

As an affiliate, I receive a small commission when you make a purchase through any of the above links. Thank you for helping to support my book habits that bring more content to this blog!

4 comments:

  1. Interesting! Very curious about this one...

    I'm with you on spoilers in the description -- I wish it was somehow possible for blurbs to not exist as sometimes, I'm the most happy with books I had no idea what they were about/featured, etc.

    ReplyDelete
  2. I'm looking forward to reading this one next month. It sounds fascinating enough but I had a little trouble with it when I first gave it a try last month.

    ReplyDelete
  3. I had meant to read this one, but still haven't. Working in higher education, I am especially curious. Glad you liked it.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Gah! Still gotta read this one. I thought you were going to talk me out of it for a minute there.

    ReplyDelete

Thank you for taking the time to comment. Happy reading!