Jul 13, 2021
One of the best—and oddly least obvious—Brooklyn novelists, Susan Choi has been on an epic two-decade run. Born in South Bend, Indiana, to a Korean father and Jewish mother, Choi’s first novel, “The Foreign Student,” based on her dad’s experiences in the Korean war, scooped up the Asian-American Literary Award for fiction. Her second, “American Woman,” short-listed for a 2004 Pulitzer, is set during the 1970s antiwar movement. “A Person of Interest,” her third, was inspired by Unabomber Theodore Kaczynski and was a finalist for the 2009 PEN/Faulkner Award. “My Eduction,” about an affair between a student and her professor’s wife, nabbed a 2014 Lambda Literary Award for best LGBTQ book. And most recently, “Trust Exercise,” her fifth novel,” won the National Book Award for fiction in 2019.
Set in a performing arts high school in the 1980s, “Trust Exercise” throbs with themes of coercion and consent, with surprise twist after more-surprising twist: Choi takes the unreliable narrator trope and somehow makes it more even less reliable. Yet, more compelling. So much so that she is set to adapt the novel as a TV series, which should be interesting given that the novel is defined by rigorous experimentation and an amorphous cast of characters. Choi has said that the book largely took shape before the #MeToo movement took root, in spite of many female students’ relationships with the professor Mr. Kingsley (who conducts more than one type of “trust exercise”).
Choi’s first book for children, “Camp Tiger,” was also published in 2019. More recently, her short story “Flashlight” debuted in The New Yorker last August. It is another twisty narrative she has suggested she might not be finished with yet. The wife of New York Times restaurant critic Pete Wells, Choi also teaches fiction writing at Yale, her alma mater.