The Center for Literary Arts is pleased to present Susan Choi, author of Trust Exercise, on Thursday, February 25, 2021 at 6PM PST.
The event discussion will be moderated by Noelle Brada-Williams.
Noelle Brada-Williams founded Asian American Literature: Discourses & Pedagogies which is now in its 11th year as a peer-reviewed online journal. She is also the Chair of the Department of English and Comparative Literature at San Jose State. Her research includes work on Maxine Hong Kingston, Gish Jen, Jhumpa Lahiri, Chang-rae Lee, Mine Okubo, Salman Rushdie, and Karen Tei Yamashita. She co-edited the book Crossing Oceans: Reconfiguring American Literary Studies in the Pacific Rim.
In an American suburb in the early 1980s, students at a highly competitive performing arts high school struggle and thrive in a rarified bubble, ambitiously pursuing music, movement, Shakespeare, and, particularly, their acting classes. When within this striving “Brotherhood of the Arts,” two freshmen, David and Sarah, fall headlong into love, their passion does not go unnoticed—or untoyed with—by anyone, especially not by their charismatic acting teacher, Mr. Kingsley.
The outside world of family life and economic status, of academic pressure and of their future adult lives, fails to penetrate this school’s walls—until it does, in a shocking spiral of events that catapults the action forward in time and flips the premise upside-down. What the reader believes to have happened to David and Sarah and their friends is not entirely true—though it’s not false, either. It takes until the book’s stunning coda for the final piece of the puzzle to fall into place—revealing truths that will resonate long after the final sentence.
As captivating and tender as it is surprising, Trust Exercise will incite heated conversations about fiction and truth, and about friendships and loyalties, and will leave readers with wiser understandings of the true capacities of adolescents and of the powers and responsibilities of adults.
Susan Choi and her work have been praised by many. Joan Didion describes her as “A natural—a writer whose intelligence and historical awareness effortlessly serve a breathtaking narrative ability.” Jennifer Egan says Choi’s work is “Deeply impressive, confident… astute, psychologically persuasive.” While Jhumpa Lahiri says Choi writes “with uncompromising grace and mastery.”
Choi’s fifth novel, Trust Exercise, won the 2019 National Book Award for Fiction. Described as “electrifying” (People) and “thrilling” (Boston Globe), it tells the story of a group of teenagers at a competitive arts school somewhere in American suburbia in the 1980s. Two of the students in the group fall in love, and this world makes a certain sense until the author upends everything and the boundaries of fiction and reality are pushed in a tale that is itself a trust exercise for readers.
New York Magazine described Choi’s novel as “Mind-bending. . . . A Gen-X bildungsroman that speaks to young generations, a Russian nesting doll of unreliable narrators, and a slippery #MeToo puzzle-box about the fallibility of memory. . . . a perfectly stitched together Frankenstein’s monster of narrative introspection and ambiguity.”
In its review, The New York Times calls Trust Exercise a “psychologically acute” book that “enlists your heart as well as your mind,” adding “Choi builds her novel carefully, but it is packed with wild moments of grace and fear and abandon.”
Trust Exercise has been embraced by critics and the public alike, with NPR proclaiming, “Book groups, meet your next selection.” This bestselling novel was named one of the best books of the year by The Washington Post, Vanity Fair, Buzzfeed, Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, Publishers Weekly, Bustle, TIME magazine and other newspapers and websites across the country. It is currently being developed as a limited television series.
Choi’s first novel, The Foreign Student, was described by the Los Angeles Times as “A novel of extraordinary sensibility and transforming strangeness.” It won the Asian-American Literary Award for fiction. Her second novel, American Woman, based on the Patty Hearst kidnapping, was a finalist for the 2004 Pulitzer Prize and the basis for a recently released feature film. Her third novel, A Person of Interest, was a finalist for the 2009 PEN/Faulkner Award, and her fourth novel, My Education, received a 2014 Lambda Literary Award. Choi was named the inaugural recipient of the PEN / W.G. Sebald Award in 2010. In early 2019, Choi’s first book for children was released, Camp Tiger, illustrated by Caldecott-honor winning artist John Rocco. It was a 2019 New York Public Library Best Book for Kids and a Shelf Awareness Best Children's Book of 2019.
In a 2019 profile in Vanity Fair, Choi was asked what she thinks is drawing readers to Trust Exercise at this moment in time — and what it is about now that made her write it. “I was impatient with just the conventional story. It didn’t feel like adequate work anymore.... I think what’s most interesting about the way that the book is operating in the world now without me is that there is all this debate. It seems like I had to write it the way I wrote it, which was believing in an underlying reality — I guess what I would hope is that readers feel the authenticity of some underlying reality, but aren’t sure what it might be and argue about it.”
Born in South Bend, Indiana to a Korean father and a Jewish mother, Choi was raised there and in Houston, Texas. She studied literature at Yale and writing at Cornell, and worked for several years as a fact-checker for The New Yorker. Choi teaches fiction writing at Yale and lives in Brooklyn.