Monday, March 2, 2020

Book Analysis: Trust Exercise by Susan Choi

When an accomplished author emulates the voice of a mediocre writer, she runs the risk of turning off readers who only see the inauthenticity or unbelievability of the story. This risk increases when it takes half of the book to come clean on the experiment--that what we thought was a complete story is really only one, flawed version, and others have different versions to tell.

That's what I heard at the meeting of the Boulder Writers Alliance Writers Who Read book club hosted by Gary McBride (His webpage features slides with links to a fascinating analysis of this novel and many more). Many participants had that experience and it made me wonder what proportion of readers were turned off by the story and never got that midpoint payoff.

Because it was a big payoff for me. Maybe it is that I love stories that turn upside down or inside out at their midpoint: when the good guys are shown to be the bad guys, or the Good Place everyone is searching for is revealed to be imaginary. This story became more interesting to me once the second narrator started picking it apart.

And then I made the same mistake again: trusting that the second narrator was telling the truth. Well, not completely, because her language made it clear that there was more subjectivity at play. But I certainly did not pick up on some of the biggest surprises in the text.

Don't read further if you want the fun of piecing together the puzzle yourself. I wish I had finished the entire book before the discussion so I'd have had time to cobble together my own theory.

Sure you want to keep reading?

Adriel Trott has a great theory: three of the male teachers are in fact the same person. One person at the book group found evidence for this in that their genitals were described similarly. Another support for this theory is that the second narrator tells us that the first broke her into several different, fake characters. Seems a lot like the author is telling us that's exactly what she did with the teachers.

This immediately raised the question to me: if the major male characters were redundant, how about the (female) narrators? It clearly doesn't work for the third narrator, as she is presented as the offspring of the second. But what if the second narrator tells the other side of the first's story, the side that is angry, the side that got pregnant and abandoned and lost her dream of greatness?

An interesting book to think about, if not entirely enjoyable to read.

No comments: