Guest Book Review: My Education by Susan Choi

February 5, 2020

My Education by Susan Choi is a campus novel recounting a grad student’s affair with her mentor’s brilliant, charismatic wife. Ms. Choi is a National Book Award-winning novelist who teaches creative writing at Yale University.

  • 304 pages
  • Publisher: Viking Books
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0143125575

Guest Book Review rating for My Education3

This stylish, steamy campus novel dissects a passionate affair between a brainy ingenue and her professor’s magnetic, intellectual, incandescent wife. But the real star of the story is neither of the two lovers; it’s writer Susan Choi’s incomparably tuned ear for prose. In nearly every sentence, the National Book Award-winning novelist displays a concertmaster’s gift for wringing music from the minute arrangement of syllables, and a knack for metaphors that prick with their aptness.

I realize, however, that in rhapsodizing on My Education’s style, I’ve distracted from the unruly affair at its center. It’s true that the ostentatious beauty of the prose outshines the story itself, like a brilliant cloth draped over something slightly indistinct. Still, the book offers a take on obsessive passion that sizzles well enough, despite its slight tropeyness.

The book centers on the old romance standby of erotic pedagogy, with a slight twist: Regina has an affair with a faculty member. But it’s not with her supervisor Nicholas Brodeur, the Spenser scholar whose Dionysian beauty first draw her eye. Instead, she falls in sudden, all-consuming love with Brodeur’s wife, Martha Hallett.

On maternity leave after the birth of the couple’s first child, Martha at once attracts and repels with chilly good looks and clear postpartum discontent. She’s a prickly, unforgettable presence at the periphery of Regina’s life — until, after a drunken holiday party encounter, she moves to its center. Over the course of their secret relationship, both women are as selfish as they are enraptured by one another.

When I try to picture the Professors Brodeur and Hallett, I see Ryan Gosling and Olivia Wilde, but wrapped up in a halo of artificial verse forms and critical theory. It’s easy to imagine a twenty-something student dazzled into infatuation by their movie-star glamour and scholarly charisma. But Regina’s own appeal is harder to pin down.

An ingenue in both looks and affect, Regina comes across a vacuum of characterization, hollowed out of everything but youth, naïvete, and capacity for infatuation that feels as juvenile as everything else about her. She seems to have no scholarly ambitions, no literary aspitations — she just sits in Brodeur’s seminar, feeling out of her depth.

In the end, My Education is gorgeous, engrossing, and yet… slightly empty.

First-year grad student Regina Gottlieb feels drawn to her supervisor, Nicholas Brodeur, whose unkempt beauty and unsavory reputation seem to spell the beginning of an illicit relationship. Instead, Regina falls in obsessive love with his wife, Martha Hallett. The two women embark on a turbulent affair that brings out the worst in both of them.

Lucia is a writer with Reedsy, a marketplace that connects self-publishing authors with editors, designers, and marketers who can help them produce professional-quality books. Like Regina, she is working towards a PhD. In Lucia’s spare time, she enjoys drinking coffee and planning a historical fantasy novel based on her dissertation.

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