Monday, July 8, 2013

Reader, I Grew Up

Regina Gottlieb is a 21 year old college graduate who knows EVERYTHING!   She is just starting her graduate degree program, and has been listening to the gossip about a professor, Nicholas Brodeur.  Brodeur has a reputation for being sexist, which somehow makes him so irresistibly sexy that Regina signs up for his class even though she is totally unprepared for it.  Regina manages to catch Brodeur's attention, lands a job as his TA, and that's when things get a little out of hand.  I know what you're thinking and you're wrong.

My Education by Susan Choi is the story of Regina, and her self righteous quest for love.  As a 21 year old, she thinks that she understands life's complications and all of the choices that are available for responsible adults, like herself.  Unfortunately, the professor who she seduces is much older, and is at an entirely different place in life.  Regina can't, and really doesn't even try, to understand the differences between grad school responsibilities and real life. 

Choi is exploring a difficult issue through her characters.  Are you who you were when you were 21?  Should you be?  If you could go back, would you and should you?  Is there actually a way back?  Is young love, with its intense focus a truer love, or just a love that can only happen when one doesn't have much else to do?  At one point, Regina describes the dilemma, by saying that she feels grief not for a lost lover, "but for all my lost selves, which I liked to imagine were still somehow there, waiting for my return."

As mentioned in David Ulin's LA Times review of My Education, the book is divided into two parts: the 1995 young Regina in love, and the 2007 Regina who is wondering if she is in love or not. The two sections read completely differently, and I preferred the later section. In the first part, the focus on the affair is intense, like a story of young love should be. The 2007 section is hectic and fast paced, with stories of how and why the 1995 characters grew and, yes, changed.

While reading My Education, I kept my dictionary close at hand.  At first I thought that Regina was using big words as a way of being a pretentious grad student.  After looking up a few of those words, however, I realized that there are more precise words for things that I have tried to describe, and that Choi knows them all.  Each word that I had to look up was exactly fitting, and a word that I really should have known already.

My Education has echos of The Corrections by Jonathan Franzen in the complicated love triangles.  The 9/11 scenes could have been cut from Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer, for being too brutal.  Foer's readers in 2005 were probably not ready for the honest story Choi's characters can retell 8 years later.  The love scenes were just slightly less explicit than those in Tipping the Velvet by Sarah Waters, but the point of Choi's story wasn't the shock, but the differences between the lovers.  One could not wait to be older and wanted to play house, while the other only wanted to be 21 again, and able to run away.  If  you check out my Favorites page, you will realize that these are huge compliments, as The Corrections and Extremely Loud are on that list, as is another by Sarah Waters.  Additionally, My Education is blurbed on the back by Michael Cunningham and Jennifer Egan, both of whose names grace my page of Faves.

Some of the reviews that I have read claim that Regina is unlikeable.  I guess that what would say in response is that I don't have to like a train crash to know that I won't be able to look away.  I hope to see My Education on this year's NYT Notable Books list.  If it doesn't make the list, and Sisterland by Curtis Sittenfeld does, then I promise not to link that list to this blog.  Do you hear the sound of NYT editors scrambling to make me happy?  Me neither.  But in this case, I hope we agree.

GIVEAWAY!!  I read this book at the request of Catherine Boyd of Viking/Penguin Books, who sent me a free copy.  Other than that, no promises were made, and no payments were received.  If you think that you would like to win a copy of My Education, please submit a comment to this post, or email me at before July 13.  For your comment, tell me the age that you would go back to, if you could.  As a fair warning, if you think that you might be offended by lesbian sex scenes, this isn't the book for you.

LEGALESE: One entry per person, and there will be only one winner. Numbers will be assigned to each entrant, and the winner will be randomly picked by number. If you choose to comment as "Anonymous", please leave your first name at the end of your comment, so that you will know who you are when I announce the winner. The winner must then contact me via email with his or her U.S. mailing address (not a PO Box), within 7 days. If the first announced winner fails to respond within that time, the book with go to the second place winner, and so on and so forth. Got it? If you have questions please email me. Good luck!

My next "industry requested review" will be The Lemon Orchard by Luanne Rice.

Next Up:  Some Hope by Edward St. Aubyn

Still Listening to:  Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

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