Winner of the 2019 National Book Award for Fiction, Trust Exercise takes place in an American suburb in the early 1980s. It follows students at a highly competitive performing arts high school struggle and thrive in a rarified bubble. 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.
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.