Monday, July 8, 2013


Regina Gottlieb is no stranger to the rumors about one of her professors, Nicholas Brodeur. Rumors that talk about Nicholas giving himself a hand job to the reading of couplets by his female students or that Nicholas laughed so hard he fell off his chair in the movie theater watching a film about rapist, Roman Polanski.

None of these rumors deter Regina from Nicholas. Not even his pregnant wife. If anything it just makes Regina more interested in him. Things get crazy when Regina gets close to Nicholas and his wife. Regina’s actions and the education she receives in life and the bedroom will make her the person she turns out to be in fifteen years.

I wanted to check this book out because it sounded outside of my norm and I like expanding my reading genre. Plus I was not offended by the fact that this book might falter on a heavy/dark reading material and some deep sexual experiences. If these two things are not your cup of tea than you should not check this book out.

Ok, so I really, really wanted to like this book more then I did. It looks like lots of people enjoyed this book. Unfortunately, this book did not do it for me. There were a lot of descriptive details in the beginning that I really struggled to see past. So the book was a slow read for me. After a while I had to put the book down and throw in the towel. I do however appreciate the raw, stripped down look that the author gave to Regina, even if I did not care for Regina.

Reprinted by arrangement with Viking, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc., from My Education by Susan Choi. Copyright © 2013 by Susan Choi

Since arriving the previous week I’d kept hearing about a notorious person, and now as I entered the packed lecture hall my gaze caught on a highly conspicuous man. That’s him I declared inwardly, which of course was absurd. It was a vast university, of thousands of souls. There was no reason these two kinds of prominence—scandalous noteworthiness, and exceptional, even sinister, attractiveness—must belong to the same human being. Yet they had. The man was Nicholas Brodeur, though I knew it for sure only later.

That first time seeing him, even before being sure who he was, it was already clear that his attractiveness was mixed up with a great deal of ridiculousness. He wore a long duster coat, in the heat of September. His filthy blond hair stuck up and out in thatchy spikes from heavy use of some kind of pomade, as if it were 1982, not ’92, and he wore Lennon shades with completely black lenses, as if it were outdoors, not in, and overall, in his resemblance to a Joy Division poster, he comported himself as if twenty and not, as I’d come to find out, almost forty. Still he was the best-looking man, by a league, in the room and certainly the best-looking man I had seen in the flesh to that point in my life. I hadn’t yet lived in one of the world’s great cities, where such specimens congregate, but even now that I have, he still ranks. And he must have realized; there was in his posture a kind of inverse vanity, a suggestion that he engaged in his sartorial ridiculousness out of some impatience with the effects of his beauty. He stood alone at the back, his feet away from the wall and his shoulders slumped against it. An ambiguous expression that was not quite a smile slightly lifted the sides of his mouth. His hands remained stuffed in the duster’s deep pockets. The inappropriate hoodlum charade seemed to chide anybody who stared, as I did.

Casper was the only fellow student in my program I’d managed so far to befriend. When he arrived and dropped into the seat I had saved him, I directed his eyes to the man. “Oh my,” Casper said. “Do I want to f**k him, or just be him?” Just being him did seem the lesser risk.

I’d been inoculated against the villain Brodeur before I’d even enrolled. On my visit to campus the previous spring, my informational coffee with a second-year poetry student had been interrupted by a timorous and blushing undergraduate whom the second-year had caught in a fervent embrace, and then presented to me portentously as someone “any woman considering coming here needs to talk to.” In the course of preparing her senior thesis under Brodeur’s direction, the undergraduate had been victimized by him, in what precise way it would victimize her further to ask her to relate. The result, thus far, had been a petition demanding his firing, but the second-year was confident that far more severe retribution would follow. This was only the most recent petition, and the most recent of his sexual crimes. He was rumored to ask female students to read Donne to him while he lay on the floor of his office, in darkness, it was presumed masturbating himself. He was said to recite bawdy couplets referring to breasts while directing his gaze in the classroom at actual breasts. He’d attended, at the repertory cinema on campus, a screening of a late-career, poorly received film by Roman Polanski—the rapist—and unlike the rest of the solemn, censorious house, there to sharpen the critical blades, he’d apparently laughed so hard as to have literally fallen from his seat onto the floor. Amid all this baleful intelligence it came as a superfluous footnote that his relations with his wife, who was also a faculty member, were obscure and chaotic.

A Conversation with Susan Choi

Q: Your previous novels deal with high stakes: the Unabomber, kidnapping, wars overseas,
terrorism. Did you find writing MY EDUCATION, a story that deals with more typical problems of passion, ambition, and love, to be a different experience?

A: I did, in a good way. For all three of my previous books I did tons of research into twentiethcentury history, and politics, and ideology, and loved immersing myself in abstruse and challenging material, and then after finishing A Person of Interest I had another baby (my second) and the very thought of research just made me pass out. I realized I wanted to write a book about people being young and falling in love and behaving stupidly, and that I probably didn't need to do research for that. Now my kids are older and I'm getting sleep again at night and I'm back to doing abstruse research! But this book was a great change for me.

Q: What was your inspiration for this novel?

A: Apart from wanting to avoid research, I was actually inspired in a very specific way by a book that
I love, Allan Hollinghurst's novel The Line of Beauty. I haven't been more enthralled, and admiring, of a novel in I don't know how long. And something about the way that book opens, with Nick in a bookstore thinking about a much older, more powerful man that he knows, and being so full of youthful moxie and naievete, brought an opening scene, fully realized, into my mind. That's happened to me a couple of times, and it's thrilling: you know there's a novel, and that you've found the entrance, but you have no idea what it contains.

Q: You currently teach at Princeton University and both MY EDUCATION and your last novel A Person of Interest feature professors as their protagonists, so it’s safe to assume you are well versed in the culture of academia. How does your experience in the world of academia play out in your fiction?

A: I think I'm less well-versed in the culture of academia than poorly-versed in anything else. Esoteric worlds are hard to resist in fiction, and academia can be pretty esoteric. If I had more experience with the esoteric world of the CIA operative, or the mafia don, I'd definitely write about
that. But I am a professor's daughter, and I guess that's bequeathed a certain compulsion on my
part to keep poking around in that region.

Q: Motherhood impacts the relationship between Regina and Martha over the entire course of the novel; in the end, it seems to be one of the primary means through which they absolve the past. How have your own children affected your writing and your perception of the world?

A: Only totally. Parenthood has completely rewired me. Things that used to enthrall me now bore me, and things I never used to notice now obsess me, and that's just one aspect of it. I think a lot,
now, about children's lives. Much of what happens to Regina in this book, to my mind, is that she realizes that children are people.

Q: Being a love story, what kind of tropes of romance were you wary of? What did you hope to bring to the table with this novel?

A: I always saw this first as a story about being young. It is a love story, but the love story is a vehicle for exploring the youthful innocence, and selfishness, and unsustainable craziness of being a young person in love, and of being a young person in general. I think this novel is my way of coming to terms with my not being particularly young anymore.

Q: For Regina, any contemplation of sexual identity seems to be on the backburner. Did you have
any intentional reason for refraining from that sort of discussion?

A: Identity politics are very popular with Regina's classmates, but they're just not a part of her
being. I'd be dragging the story into didactic territory, and maybe turning it into one of the dreary,
insincere term papers Regina writes, if I had her sitting around contemplating her sexual identity,
when everything about this situation is equally unfamiliar to her: Martha isn't just a woman, she's
married, she's a mother, she's much older and more accomplished than Regina. For Regina the
entire relationship is singular and unprecedented. She doesn't think, 'Oh, I'm a lesbian,' any more than she thinks, 'Oh, I'm a home wrecker.' She's just insanely in love - a condition that makes it hard for her to do much clear thinking at all.

Q: What are a few of your favorite love triangles (or rather quadrangles, to be most accurate to MY
EDUCATION) in literature, TV, or film?
A: I think we're talking about a love square consisting of two equilateral triangles sharing one side. I actually had to draw a picture just now, to figure this out. I can't think of other examples of this particular geometry although I'm sure there must be some. I do love the triangle, as who doesn't.

Two of my favorite books of all time, The Great Gatsby and The Age of Innocence, feature famous triangles. I also love the sad and quiet triangle at the center of J.L. Carr's magnificent short novel, A
Month in the Country. The menage, a different arrangement altogether, can be very endearing. I loved
April Ludgate and her gay boyfriend and his gay boyfriend, on Parks and Recreation. I was sad when
she dumped them, but they certainly deserved it.

Q: What do you think of Chaucer and the body of literature Nicholas teaches? Was this of particular interest to you when you were a student, or did you do the research for the sake of this novel?

A: As of this writing, I know less about Chaucer than Regina did when Nicholas hired her as his teaching assistant. I just wanted a subject matter that felt as far as possible from the groovy poststructuralist stuff that Regina was studying.

Q: Do you have anything else in the works or projects on the horizon?

A: I am back in the throes of a research obsession, but I don't know where it will lead me, if anywhere. Once I spent a year researching pirates, and then I wrote American Woman, which takes place completely on land. So I will have to wait and see.

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1 comment:

traveler said...

This book sounds unique and fascinating. Thanks for this giveaway and the feature. saubleb(at)gmail(dot)com