Trust Exercise by Susan Choi [in Booklist]
“That whole thing about fiction not being the truth is a lie,” one character admonishes another in Susan Choi’s fifth, and finest, novel. Returning to the multi-layered teacher-student power struggles seared into My Education (2013), Choi’s Trust Exercise should immediately put readers on alert: it will appear four times as a title – of the novel itself and as the repeated title of the book’s three sections. Despite being a reference to a soul-baring acting exercise, “trust” will have little correlation to truth.
“Trust Exercise” number one introduces Sarah and David, two 15-year-old students at a suburban performing-arts high school, precariously entangled with each other, overseen (manipulated) by their magnetic theater teacher, Mr. Kingsley. “Trust Exercise” number two picks up 14 years later, on page 132, revealing number one to be the first 131 pages of Sarah’s newly published novel; page 132 is where Sarah’s former best friend, Karen, stopped reading. What happened (or not) thus far gets deconstructed, then expanded, culminating in a series of dramatically (of course) orchestrated reunions. “Trust Exercise” number three will render all that came before unreliable while exposing tenuous connections between fiction, truth, lies, and, of course, people.
Literary deception rarely reads this well.
Review: modified from “Fiction,” Booklist, February 15, 2019