Choi’s new novel, her fifth, is titled Trust Exercise, and it burns more brightly than anything she’s yet written. This psychologically acute novel enlists your heart as well as your mind. Zing will go certain taut strings in your chest ... Choi gets the details right: the mix tapes, the perms, the smokers’ courtyards, the 'Cats' sweatshirts, the clove cigarettes, the ballet flats worn with jeans, the screenings of 'Rocky Horror,' the clinking bottles of Bartles & Jaymes wine coolers ... Choi builds her novel carefully, but it is packed with wild moments of grace and fear and abandon. She catches the way certain nights, when you are in high school, seem to last for a month — long enough to sustain entire arcs of one’s life ... The plot fast-forwards about 15 years. Minor characters become major, damaged ones. I do not want to give too much of this transformation away, because I found the temporary estrangement that resulted to be delicious and, in its way, rather delicate.
Susan Choi’s thrilling new novel, Trust Exercise, is a rare and splendid literary creature: piercingly intelligent, engrossingly entertaining, and so masterfully intricate that only after you finish it, stunned, can you step back and marvel at the full scope of its unshowy achievementsm ... A beautifully textured, impeccably observed tragicomedy with a sense of humor as gleaming as its ire, this is a mighty, meta, #MeToo indictment of the cult of the Great Man, and of what Choi calls — damningly, mockingly — the 'Elite Brotherhood of the Arts,' whose members shield one another reflexively ... Choi uses the veil of fiction to tell a powerful version of a cultural truth ... traces a whole system of protections built around the Great Man. Then we watch those defenses start to fall.
As you’ll learn, [Choi's] a master of emotional pacing: the sudden revelation, the unexpected attack. She’s equally astute at portraying the exaggerated passions of teenage life and the way that youthful energy warps the fabric of reality ... How cunningly this novel considers the way teenage sexuality is experienced, manipulated and remembered. And no one writes about erotic misadventures with more vicious humor than Choi ... Don’t fancy you know where this is going; Choi will outsmart you at every step ... Committing time and attention to a novel is always a trust exercise. This author never takes you where you thought you were going, but have faith: You won’t be disappointed.
... powerful ... Choi is an extraordinarily patient writer, slowly building her novel sentence by careful sentence, as if layering coats of paint until she achieves the desired intensity of hue. Her descriptions of what it's like to be a high-strung, artsy teenager in an environment where you're emotionally stripped, exposed and on constant display are uncomfortably astute ... Trust Exercise evokes a complicated, miserable high school experience so vividly and intricately that it's liable to try readers' patience and turn them off early. And that would be a pity ... Trust Exercise is fiction that contains multiple truths and lies. Working with such common material, Choi has produced something uncommonly thought-provoking. Trust me.
... an intelligent and layered portrait of a school’s legacy ... Unlike the twist in the final pages of Ian McEwan’s Atonement, which has always made a reader like me feel foolish for believing in the wish fulfillment in the main body of the book, Choi’s break occurs in the middle of her narrative, and so the feint isn’t rug-pulling but, as in Lisa Halliday’s recent novel, Asymmetry, something more interesting.
... a perplexing novel ... We’re chugging along, enjoying Choi’s tart commentary, until the halfway mark, when she fast-forwards a dozen years and the story goes off the rails ... Unfortunately, Choi’s bait and switch doesn’t feel playful or experimental. It’s not Gone Girl cleverness or the amusing frustration of an unreliable narrator. It’s total confusion. I had this sense of having followed someone blindly through a warren of circuitous sentences, minus the usual mile markers of chapter breaks, and suddenly being abandoned ... In the end, the experience of reading Trust Exercise is reminiscent of the most famous trust exercise of all: the one where you fall backward into your partner’s outstretched arms. You believe your partner will catch you. In this case, she doesn’t.
...sharp, wily ... Trust Exercise seems to be about the incendiary, ravenous nature of first love, nascent artistic ambition, hero worship ... Not so fast, the novel’s second part commands. Here is where Trust Exercise busts out of its coming-of-age shell and becomes a stranger and far more marvelous creature ... Spoiler-ish as this summary may sound, it seems a necessary spur to get readers unfamiliar with Choi’s work through the novel’s unexceptional first lap ... The first part of Trust Exercise, the reader may realize, is just a bit bad, with a foggy center you almost don’t notice thanks to the bogus frankness of the sex scenes ... Each of the novel’s three parts (the third is a relatively short coda) concerns a woman who feels betrayed, her trust violated—but the locus of that betrayal, the truly guilty party, looks different to the reader than it does to the women themselves.
Fifty pages into this novel—Susan Choi’s fifth—I was ready to write about it. I understood its design and I admired its execution ... Choi documents with flair what happens to these kids over the course of the school year. There’s almost an anthropological component here ... It might bear mention that it is pretty difficult to write about teenagers—especially young teenagers—and expect an adult readership to care ... Only an exceptionally good writer with a surfeit of guile and guts will be able to pull that off. Which makes the first half of Trust Exercise a feat in its own right ... And yet, something about these early pages felt off. The plotlines that never got going. The red herrings ... I expected a sentence maker of Choi’s caliber—and she is first-rate—to know something was off. Which, it turns out, she did ... Consider the latter half of the novel full of new perspectives on the material we’ve just lived through ... What once flew in the rarefied air of teen feeling plummets into the dark, petty, and mean streets of adulthood. If nothing else, this new voice is testament to Choi’s facility with voice—she can do it all ... This novel is bold ... Choi is a master at depicting how mutually exclusive feelings often coexist ... In the end, there’s no shortage of insight in this novel.
... a gonzo literary performance one could mistake for a magic trick, duping its readers with glee before leaving them impossibly moved ... Intriguing characters are kept on the story’s margins, yet in so vibrantly surveying this landscape, Choi gives each room to breathe ... Facts are debated in Trust Exercise, yes, but Choi always tells the truth.
As a title, Trust Exercise is a feint, seeming to refer to Mr. Kingsley’s vaguely nefarious classroom sessions, until we realize that it describes the novel itself. If to read a book is to fall backward, here Choi decides not to catch you ... Trust Exercise sees the author rethink form and shape. This is a novel, broken apart. It’s a strategy for reminding the reader that stories are always more complex, more contested, than they seem ... In its shape, Trust Exercise reminded me of two recent novels that have been much celebrated for, among other things, their formal audacity: Lisa Halliday’s Asymmetry, from 2018, and Garth Greenwell’s What Belongs to You, from 2016 ... Trust Exercise is a more deliberate violation of the reader’s faith. Choi gives us one story, then another contradictory one. In the book’s first act, Choi renders the teen drama well—she’s a great writer—but it still feels somehow lacking, vague and hard to care about, like an amateur production of a great play ... Choi’s saying something about reliability and narrative, but she overlooks the fact that the novel as a form doesn’t work if you don’t feel something for the people inside of it ... I do not mind a book that toys with its reader, but I wish Susan Choi had trusted herself more.
If books were people, Susan Choi's Trust Exercise is the type that starts out as your new best friend — magnetic, intelligent, attractive, fun-loving. But as you get deeper into the relationship, you realize how tightly wound, complicated and possibly untrustworthy she really is ... Though it's not as much of a thought experiment as Lisa Halliday's recent Asymmetry, its narrative switchbacks are similarly fun for the reader, making you think harder than usual and re-evaluate what you've already read ... As experienced readers of Choi know, her writing about sex is powerful and immediate, sometimes sexy and sometimes uncomfortable. Throughout the book, Choi's depiction of the thinking and behavior of young women, not unlike Curtis Sittenfeld's, is both empathetic and merciless — much like the young women themselves ... this is a book you will very much want to discuss with other readers.
...twisted ... Trust Exercise, her fifth novel, focuses on trust and its abuse—particularly between predatory men and teenage girls. But her vision is much broader than the politics and recriminations of #MeToo ... Each of the three sections initially jars, as perspectives shift and splinter. Yet for all the dramatic reversals, this is not a straightforward thriller. The real pleasure of the novel lies in recognising the echoes that reverberate towards its unsettling conclusion, and the questions it raises about the truth of the stories people tell ... The author uses language brilliantly ... She is an astute, forensic cartographer of human nature; her characters are both sympathetic and appalling.
... in her masterful, twisty fifth novel, Trust Exercise... Susan Choi upgrades the familiar coming-of-age story with remarkable command and sensitivity ... Choi elevates this stuff above high-school-confidential fare partly through the sheer richness of her prose: Choi’s talent is for taking ineffable emotions and giving them an oaken solidity ... So many books and films present teenage years as a passing phase, a hormonal storm that passes in time. Choi, in this witty and resonant novel, thinks of it more like an earthquake -- a rupture that damages our internal foundations and can require years to repair.
In the hands of a lesser author (who likely wouldn’t even attempt such a feat, but that may be beside the point), Susan Choi’s Trust Exercise would come off as a writerly exercise, a puzzle to be presented and then solved. But the novel—while undoubtedly a stunning exploration of the capacities of narrative form and point of view in fiction—also manages to be a well-written, propulsive story, one that is timely, provocative and at times painful to read in this era of #metoo ... Throughout, the book unpacks the problematic dynamic of older, powerful, charismatic men who use their positions of influence (and the imprimatur of their so-called art) to demean the young people who rely on, trust and even idolize them. It also brilliantly embodies the conundrum of the fiction writer who draws from life and questions whether we can ever really trust what we see, let alone what we remember. Trust Exercise is a novel that can be equally appreciated by book groups, which undoubtedly will respond to its characters and themes, and by students of writing, who will return to it again and again as a stunning example of a writer stretching and perfecting her craft.
If books were people, Susan Choi's Trust Exercise... is the type that starts out as your new best friend — magnetic, intelligent, attractive, fun-loving. But as you get deeper into the relationship, you realize how tightly wound, complicated and possibly untrustworthy she really is, which actually makes you more interested, if a little leery. There are choices she makes that you don't agree with, but you end up regarding her with respect ... Choi's depiction of the thinking and behavior of young women, not unlike Curtis Sittenfeld's, is both empathetic and merciless ... this is a book you will very much want to discuss with other readers.
Though the story explores the ways adolescent experience reverberates through adulthood, it also brilliantly topples all expectations of narrative fiction ... It is not until the final pages of the novel’s short coda that another layer of events is uncovered and the complete picture falls into place. Or does it? Trust Exercise questions the very nature of fiction, and in a novel that depicts the fluctuating power dynamics between parents and students, students and teachers, and men and women, it suggests that the one who has the most power is the one who remains to tell the final version of the story. We trust novels to tell us a story exactly the way it happened, but fiction, Choi suggests, has its own rules.
...a fresh, nuanced voice ... Halfway through the book, the narrative perspective switches when a thus-far ancillary character knocks down the fourth wall and starts parsing the events of the novel’s first half. It’s a meta technique deployed masterfully by Czech author Milan Kundera, and Choi uses it effectively, if at times tediously, to direct her reader's attention toward consideration of artistic license, how some people appropriate the lives — not to mention pain — of others ... Choi writes passages of real beauty, some of which stumble forth raw and unformed, fragments and observations that double back, accreting. Other times she deploys descriptions that feel more planned out and note perfect.
It is, until now, a straightforward story, capturing—with nauseating, addictive accuracy—the particular power dynamics of elite theater training. And then, in the second part of the novel, Pulitzer finalist Choi upends everything we thought we knew, calling the truth of the original narrative into question ... This could easily be insufferable; in Choi’s hands, it works: an effective interrogation of memory, the impossible gulf between accuracy and the stories we tell. And yet, as rigorous and as clever and as relevant as it is, the second half of the novel never quite reaches the soaring heights of the first. It’s hardly a deal breaker: the writing (exquisite) and the observations (cuttingly accurate) make Choi’s latest both wrenching and one-of-a-kind ... Never sentimental; always thrillingly alive.
Superb, powerful...marries exquisite craft with topical urgency ... Choi’s themes—among them the long reverberations of adolescent experience, the complexities of consent and coercion, and the inherent unreliability of narratives—are timeless and resonant. Fiercely intelligent, impeccably written, and observed with searing insight, this novel is destined to be a classic.