WINNER OF THE 2019 NATIONAL BOOK AWARD FOR FICTION
“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's Trust 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.
APPLE BOOKS REVIEW
Trust Exercise is so much more than a straightforward coming-of-age tale. Susan Choi’s novel starts as an emotional love-gone-wrong story about two teenage students attending a performing-arts high school in the 1980s. But just when we get the sense that her book is a kind of homage to Molly Ringwald circa Pretty in Pink, Choi expertly pulls the rug out from under us—not once but twice. Her new revelations raise questions about big issues like consent and abuse of power…and challenge us to ponder the nature of fiction itself. Yes, it’s heady stuff, but it’s also way more fun than it sounds!
Choi's superb, powerful fifth novel, after 2013's My Education, marries exquisite craft with topical urgency. Set in the early 1980s, the book's first section depicts the Citywide Academy for the Performing Arts, an elite high school in an unnamed Southern city. Galvanized by the charged atmosphere created by the school's magnetic theater teacher, Mr. Kingsley, 15-year-old classmates Sarah and David have an intense sexual relationship the summer between their freshman and sophomore years. Sarah, who has taken its secrecy for granted, is horrified when David makes their romance public that fall. She repudiates him, the two spend the year estranged, and she grows increasingly isolated until an English theater troupe makes an extended visit to the school. When she is pursued by one of the troupe's actors at the same time her classmate Karen falls in love with its director, the two young women form a fraught, ambivalent bond. The novel's second segment reintroduces the characters a dozen years later, shifting from Sarah's perspective into to a new viewpoint that casts most of what readers thought they knew into doubt. After the tensions of the past culminate in an act at once shocking and inevitable, a brief coda set in 2013 adds a final bold twist. Choi's themes among them the long reverberations of adolescent experience, the complexities of consent and coercion, and the inherent unreliability of narratives are timeless and resonant. Fiercely intelligent, impeccably written, and observed with searing insight, this novel is destined to be a classic.
Customer ReviewsSee All
The first part was engrossing, psychologically captivating with interesting characters. The second part was as if someone else wrote it. One of the very few books (I read a lot) that I simply could not finish.
I no doubt missed something that compels others to read on.
Couldn’t put it down. Fabulous writing! I LOVED the “Karen” character OMG. It’s not a light easy read - it’s intense - but so worth it.
trust the process
Lovely, just lovely. It does have post-modern structural elements but is not at all precious or self-consciously “meta.” The reader is forced into awkward vantages, and interacting with the narrative is the ultimate “trust exercise” of its title. It’s a sort of prose meditation on the difference between truth and accuracy— though it may demand a bit more than the usual willingness to suspend disbelief, the reward for trusting the process is the feeling that every word is true, eclipsing any small thoughts about illusorily objective fact.
NB: I would recommend NOT reading the “sample” as it does not start at the beginning of the novel. When I titled this review, I had entirely forgotten the novel’s title! (Consciously, at least.)