My Education, by Susan Choi
This novel starts off typically enough with a grad student crush on a charismatic professor. Regina Gottlieb, like a leaf in the wind, enrolls in two of Nicholas Brodeur’s classes, not because she’s interested in the subject he’s teaching, but because she’s heard he’s hot and wants to see what the fuss is about. He selects her as one of his teaching assistants, and the story takes a turn when she’s invited to a dinner at his house, where she meets and falls in lust with his wife, Martha, who’s at home caring for their newborn son Joachim.
Maybe I’m too far from the age group in question to remember what all-consuming lust is like, but the self-indulgence of these two characters made me lose all sympathy for them. Although Regina, despite her foibles, seemed like a realistic character to me for the first part of the book, once the love affair began, she lost me. I wanted her to grow a spine and remove herself from a relationship for which she shelved her own education as well as every last bit of ambition or self-determination. As for Martha, I couldn’t shake the feeling that she was a selfish jerk who was old enough to know better. I kept reading, hoping someone — anyone — would get smarter, or kinder. As it turned out Regina eventually does (at least temporarily), but we aren’t let in on how or why. The last third of the book, which occurs much later than the affair, manages to partially salvage the character, but not entirely, especially since we’re not let in on how she pulled herself out of the hole she was in; we just meet her after most everything has been resolved, and she seems relatively content.
I loved other work by Choi, and she’s been a Pulitzer and PEN/Faulkner nominee, both for American Woman, which I haven’t read. Her A Person of Interest was excellent, so I would read her again in the future.
author photo: Adena Stevens Photography