Trust Exercise by Susan Choi
Susan Choi's new novel Trust Exercise is an uncomfortable, confusing and pretty unnavigable read
Trust Exercise tells the story of Sarah and David, who fall obsessively in love during their first semester of a highly competitive arts high school. However, neither of them is ready for the intensity of their relationship, or the manipulation that they will endure by their fellow students and their drama instructor, Mr Kingsley. Choi plays with the reader’s expectations of chronology and character transparency, and whilst an interesting idea in summary, generally it creates a confusing, impenetrable and quite contrived narrative. This book is like Marmite: either you will love it, or you will not (and unfortunately for me, it was the latter).
Choi’s writing focusses on narrative summary which, though beautiful, is off-putting and creates no character connection. The novel reads objectively and dispassionately, akin to dry non-fiction – and an uncomfortable one at that, considering how much it focusses on sexual encounters (genuinely, it's endless). David and Sarah’s relationship itself begins with the most ridiculous and bizarre sexual encounter that takes place in the middle of a classroom theatre exercise, and which includes the sentence: 'Her nipples rained down in his mind in the form of hard glittering gems, diamonds and quartzes and those faceted clumps of rock crystal one grew in a jar on a string.' It’s a little hard to recover from that one, to be honest.
Trust Exercise has an impressive pedigree – it hails from a well-respected Pulitzer-prize nominee and markets itself as literary fiction – but it is, overall, a rather uncomfortable, confusing and pretty unnavigable read, and one which requires close to Ulysses-esque patience to finish reading.