ARC: My Education by Susan Choi
Published by Viking Adult on 7/3/2013
Source: ARC, Publisher
Amazon • Goodreads
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.
When My Education by Susan Choi came in the mail, I couldn’t wait to read it. My very first ARC – and by a Pulitzer-winning author, nonetheless! Admittedly, this isn’t my usual style of book, but the premise sounded intriguing, and I was eager to read it. Fifty pages in, my excitement was over. I was slogging through the pages, weighed down by overly-descriptive prose that slowed down the storyline. And worst of all, I couldn’t stand Regina. I couldn’t relate to her, and I thought she was incredibly weak and frustrating.
We first meet Regina in 1992, as she is showing up in a new town for grad school. She has no possessions, seems to have no friends from her life before this point, and her only family is a mother who is always traveling. She seemed to constantly change who she was to fit the situation. She fell into bed with her stoner of a roommate primarily because she didn’t have a bed or any other piece of furniture on which to sleep. When she becomes the TA for the infamous Professor Brodeur, she completely changed the way she dressed. When she becomes embroiled in an affair, she totally changed her style of dress again, modeling herself after her lover. Instead of just seeming very young and innocent and crazy-in-love, (all of which I have been and remember quite well!) Regina seemed to me like a sad, desperate person who had no convictions or confidence. As much as I wanted to root for her, I found myself continually annoyed with her bad decisions and her lack of a backbone.
In her relationship, she is completely needy and immature. It becomes her obsession, and in her mind, there is nothing beyond it. She doesn’t care what she has to give up in order to keep it, no matter how she is being treated. She doesn’t stop to think about the eventual fallout – for herself or the several other people who become involved in the situation – that the reader knows is inevitable. For a book that is about an illicit affair, this one is not about the sex. The few love scenes are frantic and seem to have a desperate air about them, which felt like an intentional reflection on the level of obsession. This story deals more with the betrayal, the consequences, and how our decisions can continue to impact us for years to come. Very heavy stuff!
The pace of the book did pick up for me, and in the last third of the story, we fast forward to Regina’s life in 2007. She is very different now, but it’s never really explained how she got there from where we left her in the 90’s. Maybe the “how” wasn’t important, especially in light of how the story wraps up, but I would’ve liked a few more details. I did like the ending, and I think this book could definitely spawn some good discussions in a book club. It will definitely leave you thinking about decisions that you have made, or not made, and how they could potentially shape your future.
Reading more about the author, all of her previous works deal with very heavy, serious topics – kidnapping, terrorism, and the Unabomber. Clearly, she is a very serious author and the writing in this book reflects that. I do enjoy weighty, thought-provoking topics, but I think this book could have been infused with a little joy and fun along the way. For me, the payoff just wasn’t there this time.