MLA Platinum Award Press Release

Summary and book reviews of Trust Exercise by Susan Choi

Trust Exercise

A Novel

by Susan Choi

Trust Exercise by Susan Choi X
Trust Exercise by Susan Choi
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

     Not Yet Rated
  • First Published:
    Apr 2019, 272 pages
    Paperback:
    May 2020, 272 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Meara Conner
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About this Book

Book Summary

Pulitzer finalist Susan Choi's multi-part, narrative-upending novel.

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, 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.

NEITHER CAN DRIVE. David turns sixteen the following March, Sarah the following April. It is early July, neither one within sight of sixteen and the keys to a car. Eight weeks remain of the summer, a span that seems endless, but with the intuitive parts of themselves they also sense it is not a long time and will go very quickly. The intuitive parts of themselves are always highly aggravated when they are together. Intuition only tells them what they want, not how to achieve it, and this is intolerable.

Their romance has started in earnest this summer, but the prologue took up the whole previous year. All fall and spring of the previous year they lived with exclusive reference to each other, and were viewed as an unspoken duo by everyone else. Little remarked, universally felt, this taut, even dangerous energy running between them. When that began, it was harder to say. They were both experienced—neither was a virgin—and this might have both sped and slowed what took place. ...

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  • award image

    National Book Awards
    2019

Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

Trust Exercise's impressiveness lies in its inability to be defined. It's about the stories women tell themselves to explain their difficult relationships and encounters with men. It's about the intensity of being a teenager, and the extreme depth of emotional experience that occurs without an understanding of what it means to who you are and who you will become. Susan Choi's latest release is a masterful, introspective look at the impact high school has on shaping, not only the person you are, but the narratives you construct...continued

Full Review (578 words).

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(Reviewed by Meara Conner).

Media Reviews

Buzzfeed
Through Choi's inventive storytelling, [the romance between two high school students] and its aftermath acts as the nexus in a sprawling story of adolescence, loyalty, truth, and fiction.

NPR
Choi's book isn't long, but its first half, the set-up for all that follows, feels long. Her construction, with its bottom-heavy foundation, raises issues about how long you want to hang around in a basement before ascending to floors with a better view — but it's worth hanging in there for her payoff...Trust Exercise is fiction that contains multiple truths and lies. Working with such common material, Choi has produced something uncommonly thought-provoking.

Lit Hub
Compulsively readable and formally brilliant: this is basically a literary unicorn.

Bustle
[A] remarkable novel with a narrative twist that will knock you out.

New York Times
This psychologically acute novel enlists your heart as well as your mind. Zing will go certain taut strings in your chest...[Trust Exercise is] a phosphorescent examination of sexual consent, especially when applied to student-teacher relationships. It is also a devastatingly apt analysis of what men have gotten away with because they are seen to be members of what is ironically referred to as 'the Elite Brotherhood of the Arts.'

Washington Post
This is the most precise skewering of a magnetic teacher since Muriel Spark’s 1961 classic. Choi’s voice blends an adolescent’s awe with an adult’s irony. It’s a letter-perfect satire of the special strain of egotism and obsession that can fester in academic settings...Committing time and attention to a novel is always a trust exercise. This author never takes you where you thought you were going, but have faith: You won’t be disappointed.

Kirkus Reviews
Starred Review. The writing (exquisite) and the observations (cuttingly accurate) make Choi's latest both wrenching and one-of-a-kind. Never sentimental; always thrillingly alive.

Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. Superb, powerful ... 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.

Vulture
Choi's newest mind-bender of a novel ... spins out in entirely unexpected directions.

Author Blurb Tom Perrotta, New York Times bestselling author of Mrs. Fletcher, The Leftovers, Little Children, and Election
Trust Exercise is a brilliant and challenging novel, an uncanny evocation of the not-so-distant past that turns into a meditation on the slipperiness of memory and the ethics of storytelling. Susan Choi is a masterful novelist, who understands exactly where we are right now and how we got here.

Author Blurb Dana Spiotta, National Book Award-nominated author of Eat the Document and Innocents and Others
An ingenious, morally complex exploration of how our youthful entanglements, cruelties, and traumas shape the rest of our lives. Choi's writing is dazzling in its control and precision; this witty, sharp, unsettling novel grabs you and won't let you go.

Author Blurb R.O. Kwon, author of The Incendiaries
As soon as I finished ... [I was] desperate to talk about the novel with anyone else who'd read it. A startling, perplexing, fascinating book by a writer I've long been?and will always be?eager to read.

Author Blurb Julie Buntin, author of Marlena
I can't remember the last time I had such a visceral reaction to a book, or was so dazzled by a writer's inventiveness with structure. Susan Choi is a master and Trust Exercise should be on every human's reading list. A perfect knockout, with profound things to say about art-making, adolescence, and consent.

Author Blurb Gabe Habash, author of Stephen Florida
This novel is a work of genius and should be a future classic. It has the most audacious narrative shift I've read since John Fowles's The Collector. Plus, it includes the phrase 'a virtuoso feeling-state lasagna.'

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Beyond the Book

Reading the #MeToo Movement

#MeToo movementA large part of the later chapters of Susan Choi's Trust Exercise revolves around the publishing of a female narrative of past sexual assault, forcing other characters in the story to reckon with their own complicity in the event (or lack thereof). The empowerment of survivors telling of their own stories is a concept that today's public is very familiar with – the #MeToo movement has garnered significant attention in the past several years because it provides survivors with a safe platform from which to bring their narratives to light and holds perpetrators of their assaults accountable in a public space.

As the movement has gained traction in the public sphere, the tenets of #MeToo have become more obviously noticeable in today's...

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