By all accounts, Susan Choi’s novel Trust Exercise is the kind of book I should have hated. The narrators are unreliable. The author is a bit coy with us in the beginning. Another character is referred to as “the author” is the fictional author? Susan Choi? Can anyone be trusted here? Just what is going on?
I’m not entirely sure what in the hell is going on, but I do know that I loved reading this book and the further I got into it, the more it delighted me.
The book opens with Sarah and David, melodramatic 15-year-old kids made all the more dramatic by the fact that they’re theatre (never theater, says their Svengaliesque teacher Mr. Kingsley) kids at a prestigious and competitive performing arts high school in some suburb in some town in the early 80s.
Sarah and David fall in mad, passionate love for reasons only a fifteen year old can understand, mostly because they get each other’s motor running. Their relationship because fodder for gossip, grudges, and bizarre trust exercises. These exercises and the relationship have lasting repercussions though out the lives of the students and teachers.
This first part about the high school students is pretty straightforward with all the melodrama you’d expect. What Choi does so wonderfully in this part and which felt so very true to me how the teens get very upset about typical teen bullshit — who snubbed who, who made out with someone’s boyfriend, etc. — while they take the actual fucked up stuff in stride, kind of glossing over it like it’s no big deal. Sometimes it takes us years and years to realize the things that happened to us were fucked up.
Then we get to the second part and things go a little sideways. Then there’s a third part that’s even more. . . what? WHAT?
I don’t want to say too much for fear of spoiling things. Getting to these parts made my heart race a little bit and my brain whirred, “Susan Choi, you magnificent bastard!”
This is a kind of book you should read with a buddy, only so you have someone to bounce ideas and theories off of, and hoo-boy do I got some theories I’d be happy to share with you once you read this one.