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My Education by Susan Choi

My Education

by Susan Choi

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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 |
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. ( )
  nomadreader | Oct 21, 2013 |
Showing 1-5 of 11 (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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