Trust Exercise punched me in the gut, kicked me while I was down, and still I could not leave it alone. I was once an insufferable THEEEEAAAAATER kid, and the teens on display here made my blood curdle- out of immediate and inescapable recognition. I was a pretentious brat until far too recently (still pretentious, just too old to be a brat) and roiling guilt flowed through my veins throughout the entire book. I have been working diligently on keeping my ideas off of other people’s art- “what if you did this?” “I think it would be better this way….” “If it were up to me” were mainstays of my vocabulary for a very long time- and moments in this book cracked open my carefully constructed post-theater presentation and brought me right back to scrabbling for attention and spotlight.
I loved it none the less. There are three distinct “stories” within this novel, and the structure and narration whirl throughout into shapes that I did not plan on coming across after completing the first “story”. It was a punishing read, but deservedly so.
Sex takes a front seat (literally, in one case outside of a high school party) throughout the book. Sex in all of it’s myriad and awful iterations. It creates narratives, tears apart friendships, ruins lives, creates careers- but it’s never garish or Elizabeth Gilbert-esque bad/hilarious. Susan Choi draws desire in all of it’s fevered states, and her descriptions are sumptuous. You can feel the heat radiating from the page in some of the early sequences. She equally deconstructs unwanted, unwelcome, and unfulfilling sex and sex-adjacent acts into gross and slimy situations that linger just as strongly as those of a more pleasant variety.
I do not want to tell you any more. I want you to trust your gut and read.