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My Education by Susan Choi

My Education

by Susan Choi

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i am really unsure how i feel about this book.

parts of it went by so quickly, and parts took me forever to get through. the writing is in some parts so very good, and in others (purposefully, i think) awkward and cumbersome. the story sometimes drew me in, and other times didn't seem to matter to me at all. for me, this book is a collection of opposing critiques. i'm not sure where the balance lies.

i really liked this book for the first third or so, although it took me a little while to get used to her writing. she sometimes structures her sentences in a way that made me need to read passages two or three times to know what she was saying. just with her syntax. (ex: "The trio accompanied him that since long before he and I met had established themselves as the owners of the other three seats in his car.") i liked her writing better when the sentences were shorter and the writing was crisp; this she does very well. but anyway, the first third or so of the book kept me quite interested - and surprised, as there is a good deal of graphic lesbian sex (although not detailed) and i didn't expect this from a mainstream publisher, and i especially wasn't looking for it so early on in the story - but i found the plot stagnating for a large portion of this book. halfway through the book i had no idea what it was about, and it didn't seem to be going anywhere, and the characters seemed as stuck as the plot was. it took far too long for my liking for things to move at all.

it didn't help that i found the characters to be generally unlikable (until the older joachim, finally!) and wanted them to move through some arc so i would be made to care more about what happened to them. but that's not something that usually bothers me (not liking the characters, that is, not the lack of character arc), so don't think it's what bothers me about this book.

i did like the ending (not how it unfolded or even necessarily what happened, but i found myself finally caring at the end) so i'm also left with a conflicting feeling of actually starting to like it more just when it ended but holding on to a more negative feeling about the rest.

as i'm thinking through this, it seems to me that i want to like this, that i like some of her writing quite a bit, but that overall i just didn't really like the book. because she can write, i'd read something else by her again, i think that something about this one just didn't work for me, although i'm not entirely sure what it was that didn't work. likely the lack of depth to the character development. it's not that she ends up with a man, or that she pushes dutra (who i did kind of like throughout) to be with martha, because i felt like they were both so clearly bisexual the entire time, although i'm sure people in my lesbian book group will be disappointed with this outcome.

"Nicholas Brodeur was a predator - not to mention a sexist! - whose continuing presence on campus proved the sorry truth of everything we'd learned in women's studies (and so was gratifying, though most of us wouldn't admit it)."

"Returning she gave me her deep, searching kiss, as a promise or a bribe, if these aren't the same thing."

"This was so simple it went without saying, but unsaid, one could try to forget it." ( )
  elisa.saphier | Oct 3, 2015 |
I really enjoyed this one. The first two-thirds takes place in the early 1990s in an East Coast college town, and the last third takes place in the present. Regina, a first year literature graduate student when the action begins, narrates from an older/wiser place of reminiscence. She tells the story of how she became romantically involved with her mentor's wife (a literature professor in her 30s), while the marriage (between the mentor and his wife) was in the process of disintegration. Choi does a wonderful job of depicting an obsessive, chaotic, and passionate romance and the lasting effect it had on all three lives, without making any of the parties (all of whom are imperfect and good at making rather bad decisions) into villains or angels. The characters are well-drawn and complex (with a great cast of supporting characters), the attraction is very believable, and it captures that early-20s-end-of-the-world-love thing so well. What a page-turner!

This novel seems to get very mixed reviews and the only explanation I can come up with is that it's an odd combination of literary fiction and mild erotica, so maybe you have fans of both genres reading it, and then perhaps one audience ends up offended and the other bored. That's my theory anyway. Oh, well. I liked it a lot. ( )
  DorsVenabili | Nov 21, 2014 |
It felt painfully like a recent grad school escapee wrote a potential grad school piece on what it would be like to be a grad school dropout crushing on your grad school professor and his wife but, scandalously, maybe at the same time? And all intertwined, so there are confusing parallels and intersections?

The bones and sinew show on this work. ( )
  Brainannex | Jul 31, 2014 |
Susan Choi's My Education is about a very naive 21 year old named Regina Gottlieb's affair with her professor wife, Martha Hallet, who is 12 years her junior in 1992. Things are complicated, inspiringly, not because of the same sex pairing but because of Martha's impromptu divorce and her newborn son.

Although Regina is "in love" with Martha, the latter continues to be cold and distant to her. The love affair turns south when, on the night Martha is supposed to publicly acknowledged Regina as her girlfriend, Martha insteads gets high and sleeps with Regina's best friend, Daniel Dutra.

Then the novel flashes forward to 2007, sort of a like "what happens next" reunion show. Regina is married published with a toddler and another one on the way. Dutra's roller coaster life is also shown as it what happens to Martha.

For some reason, I was very excited when this book came out and I was very disappointed by it. It was the love story between two very unlikable people. Regina was a shrill whiner. Sure, she was 21 but 21 year olds have usually stopped their teen melodrama by then. Martha was a grade A bitch. She was a horrible character. Like I mentioned she was cold, distant, uncaring, and arrogant. I didn't care what happened to her.

Dutra was annoying. He was very childish and, again, arrogant. No wonder he and Martha would make an ideal couple. The 2007 portion of My Education felt like a different narrative altogether. It was boring until all of the characters that matter came into place then it became slightly less boring. I will say that Regina did not deserve her husband.

Choi's use of language was exquisite but very verbose. She kept her thesaurus handy in the writing of My Education. Me being my prudish self, I cringed at the very descriptive sex scenes. Boy! The part with the breast milk made me gagged. Ick! ( )
  Y2Ash | Apr 16, 2014 |
Some of the writing was very striking, and for the first 50 pages or so, I was really into this--it had a real sense of mystery and momentum. But that evaporated quickly and was basically a red herring. By the end of the dinner party, everything had gone downhill. I don't need for characters to be likeable, per se, but I do need to have some type of respect for the main character of a book with first-person narration. And Regina was a whiny, pathetic child.

And the 2007 portion of the book was stupid, implausible, and irrelevant. I cannot imagine what could have happened in the fade-to-black 15 years to bring Regina's life to where it was, and I could not believe the ending. A Visit from the Goon Squad, you ain't. Feh! ( )
1 vote thatotter | Feb 6, 2014 |
Showing 1-5 of 12 (next | show all)
"Choi has taken seriously the sexual love between two women who see themselves as straight. This choice of subject matter is an exciting one, for if a number of the great novels of the past century have been stories of gay love, no really adequate literature of bisexuality exists."
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0670024902, Hardcover)

An intimately charged novel of desire and disaster from the author of American Woman and A Person of Interest

Regina Gottlieb had been warned about Professor Nicholas Brodeur long before arriving as a graduate student at his prestigious university high on a pastoral hill.  He’s said to lie in the dark in his office while undergraduate women read couplets to him. He’s condemned on the walls of the women’s restroom, and enjoys films by Roman Polanski. But no one has warned Regina about his exceptional physical beauty—or his charismatic, volatile wife.

My Education is the story of Regina’s mistakes, which only begin in the bedroom, and end—if they do—fifteen years in the future and thousands of miles away. By turns erotic and completely catastrophic, Regina’s misadventures demonstrate what can happen when the chasm between desire and duty is too wide to bridge.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:07:59 -0400)

Warned about the womanizing activities of Professor Nicholas Brodeur before her arrival at his prestigious university, graduate student Regina Gottlieb is nevertheless captured by his charisma and good looks before falling prey to his volatile wife.

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