"My Education" is the fourth novel from this 2004 Pulitzer Prize finalist. The novel slinks off to a familiar kickstart: the young, supposedly innocent, girl who falls for the smart, let’s call him ’intellectual’ older man. She is the student, he is the professor and we feel like we’ve seen this all before a couple of times. But even when the professor begins to sound familiar and starts to look familiar in your mind’s eye and even when Regina, our lead character, hounds the man down despite his reputation for philandering and lechery, the masterful writer shifts the attention elsewhere very smartly. I gasped; you may even do the same, in bed or on the subway as I did.
The affair does take place, of course, but not with the person you’ve expected all along. Regina, the youthful yet calculated un-naïve graduate student, explores and she explores well. The proverbial moss does not grown near this girl - never mind on her. The relationship that ensues (big spoiler alert) between the professor’s wife Martha and our girl Regina unfolds like an origami animal. Heated up sex scenes and eventually bitterness and a calculated destruction from both sides - all packaged in a tiny paper fold of cruelty.
"All women are powerfully affected by examples of beauty among their own kind. Those who claim they can’t appraise another woman’s allure because they’re of the same sex are embarrassed, or lying."
Regina and even Martha inspire more romances swirling around them and the ultimate realization of what love is, or pretends to be, comes swinging at them with a hairy, battered fist. The second part of the novel, almost 15 years on, showcases the characters in a new light yet again and (no spoiler here) makes the book even more worth reading, as the ending feels perfectly unexpected.
Gayness isn’t mentioned, but love and eroticism and normalcy are. That’s where Choi, our hero writer, does what she does best - she makes nice and she fleshes out every single scene with great care and consideration. Perhaps her feelings about life, politics, social standings, and love for that matter, are not so apparent in the novel but that feels authentic too. Painfully and carefully constructed the novel feels elegant, albeit it sexy, the disco inferno of love, supposed love, and rejection feel free and fresh like the ocean you know but cannot see.
by Susan Choi