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Trust Exercise by Susan Choi

Trust Exercise

by Susan Choi

Other authors: See the other authors section.

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
4203841,710 (3.14)32
WINNER OF THE 2019 NATIONAL BOOK AWARD FOR FICTION NATIONAL BESTSELLER "Electrifying" (People)* "Masterly" (The Guardian)* "Dramatic and memorable" (The New Yorker)* "Magic" (TIME)*"Ingenious" (The Financial Times)* "A gonzo literary performance" (Entertainment Weekly)* "Rare and splendid" (The Boston Globe)* "Remarkable" (USA Today)*"Delicious" (The New York Times)* "Book groups, meet your next selection" (NPR) In an American suburb in the early 1980s, students at a highly competitive performing arts high school struggle and thrive in a rarified bubble, ambitiously pursuing music, movement, Shakespeare, and, particularly, their acting classes. When within this striving "Brotherhood of the Arts," two freshmen, David and Sarah, fall headlong into love, their passion does not go unnoticed--or untoyed with--by anyone, especially not by their charismatic acting teacher, Mr. Kingsley. The outside world of family life and economic status, of academic pressure and of their future adult lives, fails to penetrate this school's walls--until it does, in a shocking spiral of events that catapults the action forward in time and flips the premise upside-down. What the reader believes to have happened to David and Sarah and their friends is not entirely true--though it's not false, either. It takes until the book's stunning coda for the final piece of the puzzle to fall into place--revealing truths that will resonate long after the final sentence. As captivating and tender as it is surprising, Susan Choi'sTrust Exercise will incite heated conversations about fiction and truth, and about friendships and loyalties, and will leave readers with wiser understandings of the true capacities of adolescents and of the powers and responsibilities of adults.… (more)



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» See also 32 mentions

Showing 1-5 of 38 (next | show all)
This book is hard to talk about without giving too much away. Unlike most other readers (from some quick Googling) I much preferred the opening third. It's a story that tackles lots of Subjects, without really sinking its teeth into any of them. There's also a bit too much willful confusion - reminding me of The Magus - that soured me on the experience. ( )
  alexrichman | May 18, 2020 |
The author makes really strong, consistent, and contrasting choices about style and voice in each section that gave me the false impression that there was going to be a masterful payoff. There is not. What’s more, the overwrought overwriting of the first half of the novel, while clearly intentional, was painful to slog through—quite a gamble on the author’s part. The thing that kept me reading was the subject matter—I work in youth theatre and am apparently a sucker to see any piece of that rarified world reflected in fiction. And yet. ( )
  jostie13 | May 14, 2020 |
To read a synopsis of Trust Exercise is to ruin the experiment. Choi really goes for it in this novel, employing narrative acrobatics that come from nowhere a good chunk of the way into the book. On the one hand, I was glad for the shift, as the first part of the book did not interest me. The final part of the novel felt too hasty to pull everything together. Whether or not Choi’s experiment succeeds is up for debate. It felt to me as though the entire novel existed solely to employ its surprising plot device. Others may find themselves more invested. Despite this, Trust Exercise is a wholly original exercise in storytelling.
Zachary L. 4/16/20 ( )
  RoeschLeisure | Apr 16, 2020 |
Finished Trust Exercise and enjoyed the roller coaster ride or more specifically the trick of the narrative that is explained nicely here by NYT :
"It is about at this point that Choi pulls the tablecloth out from under “Trust Exercise.” The cutlery and the glasses remain, warily quivering. But you realize you’ve almost entirely misunderstood the primary characters and the mise-en-scène."
Before that slight of hand tablecloth pull, we witness a teenage love story between Sarah and David. They seemed to be a couple even before they were. Everyone gave them the space to achieve the inevitable. Their intense summer of first love and physical exploration ends when the perception of what has transpired is seen differently by the two. For one it is a proclamation shared, the other a cherished secret. The difference will crush their love and innocence.
Then as the NYT continues: "The plot fast-forwards about 15 years. Minor characters become major, damaged ones. I do not want to give too much of this transformation away, because I found the temporary estrangement that resulted to be delicious and, in its way, rather delicate."
Me too. I don't know how this would work as an audiobook, and that is why I'm suspicious of that new trend. It took me awhile to go back and forth, to revert to other underlined pages, to piece together the new narrative of the Karen who was not Karen. Choi is clever and writes so well that the returning to previous passages becomes part of the reward of reading closely. For example comparing pages 217 to 139- both depict Karen's return to school after her semester spent in the care of the "Christian school". They depict the same scene, Karen and Sarah running into each other after some crucial time has passed, but the differences are important. Would an audiobook experience enable the listener to even realize this?
Anyway I digress. I thought at first I was disappointed in not continuing with the emotional highs and lows of these not quite adults, making life changing decisions in a 1980's that Choi depicted so well. The characters here are part of a performing arts high school. "They were all children who had previously failed to fit in, or had failed, to the point of acute misery, to feel satisfied, and they had seized on creative impulse in the hope of salvation." More specifically "They were permanent members of that mysterious majority, the talented enough to get into the school but not talented enough to serve as its stars." The time frame is important. This novel needed to not have a social media aspect. I'm sure the narrative would not be possible with the abilities of today's youth to do their cutting damage online. That initial disappointment, however, was short lived as Karen's story took hold and the cleverness of her insights became even more intriguing. Even her word play regarding definitions and the accent stress on noun/verb words like repeat, present, permit, and insult- reveal her introspective abilities, this introspection combines nicely with her natural ability to fix messes.
In her acknowledgment, Choi gives recognition to her own school of the arts in Houston and claims everything there was wonderful, but this too gives you a sense of another layer. Here is the author writing a book about an author who writes about her teenage school years and doesn't tell the real truth. I wonder if there a Karen out there with access to a prop gun. Highly recommend reading, to listening to this National Book Award winner.

Good lines:
The vast southern city they lived in was rich in land, poor in everything else—no bodies of water, no drainage, no hills, no topographical variety of any sort, no public transportation or even the awareness of the lack of such a thing. The city, like vines with no trellis, sprawled out thinly and nonsensically, its lack of organization its sole unifying aspect.

Seeing him for the first time, last year, she had stared with recognition at his mouth, at its unhandsome, simian quality, his lips slightly too wide for his narrow boy’s face. His mouth is nothing like hers because made for hers; her first time kissing him had been the first experience of her life that had exceeded expectation

The curled, browned, brittle croissants make her think of the discarded shells of locusts she sometimes found hooked to the trees, when she was a little girl, and they lived on a street that had trees, before her father moved out.

When unavoidably they met in classrooms David stared coldly and Sarah stared even more bitterly coldly and it was a contest, to pile up coldness, to shovel it furiously from their hearts.

Seeing him for the first time, last year, she had stared with recognition at his mouth, at its unhandsome, simian quality, his lips slightly too wide for his narrow boy’s face. His mouth is nothing like hers because made for hers; her first time kissing him had been the first experience of her life that had exceeded expectation.

I imagined her recognition of me would have the same sort of effect on her voice that bumping into the turntable had when we used to play records. Her needle would jump and then fall back again and she’d pretend to keep going, but there would have been that little break, that flaw in the smoothness.

And there was Liam, the telegenic handsomeness he sometimes had under stage lights, or in photos, totally erased by his fish-belly paleness, his pimples, his flailing limbs like a spider’s, and his over-pointy Adam’s apple like a hard-on in his throat.

I could go on but let's just say I really admired the writing. ( )
  novelcommentary | Apr 16, 2020 |
Ugh - this book was not for me. It was so tedious and the characters were so self centered - I just didn't care about any of them. I wish I had just stopped reading instead of wasting my time finishing it. ( )
  susan.h.schofield | Mar 22, 2020 |
Showing 1-5 of 38 (next | show all)
The reward of Trust Exercise is the way in which this novel asks to be read: not necessarily with suspicion, but with attention to the process of sorting significant from insignificant details; attention to what information you need in order to consider a certain version of the truth authoritative.
Perhaps the title itself is meant in an ironic sense but reading a novel is a sort of trust exercise in itself, the trust that the reader has in the writer to convince us that something that never happened actually did, and when our faith in the story is betrayed, the novel itself becomes damaged.
Trust Exercise is marketed, accurately, as a #MeToo novel, and it shows with painful rawness how much damage can be wrought without anyone realising they are the victim. But this designation doesn’t capture the complexity of Choi’s investigation into human relations. What she’s done, magisterially, is to take the issues raised by #MeToo and show them as inextricable from more universal questions about taking a major role in someone else’s life, while knowing that we’re offering only a minor part in return.
The entire structure of the novel folds in on itself like a piece of origami, and what emerges is something sharp-edged and prickly: a narrative propelled by white-hot rage and the desire for revenge.
And so what we’re left with, in the end, is fragments of testimony, each colored by its own particular kind of trauma, its own distorted perspective. And yet it’s possible to see all these elements independently and take away some kind of abiding reality that supersedes them all.

» Add other authors

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Choi, SusanAuthorprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Seeback, NicoletteCover designersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Neither can drive. David turns sixteen the following March, Sarah the following April.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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