This review contains spoilers.
I have just finished Trust Exercises by Susan Choi. I started out by reading twenty-five pages of the novel a day but it is fairly two hundred pages long and yesterday I powered through until the end. Do not be mistaken though, this novel is by no means an easy read.
Trust Exercises starts out by telling the story of Sarah and David, two fifteen year old lovers attending the Citywide Academy for the Performing Arts, known informally as CAPA.
CAPA is notorious for being the best in the region. It hosts a four year Theatre arts program led by the character Mr Kingsley, of which both Sarah and David are enrolled. The first half of the novel is told through the eyes of Sarah, who seems to be running away from everything good in her life. When she isn’t working long hours at the bakery or spending twelve hours at school, she’s daydreaming of owning a car in which she’d use to up and leave the small town. Sarah is only fifteen but she’s a libertine, and I’m guessing this is what drives David away—the idea that she has had better and could have better if she wanted to. But Sarah doesn’t see it this way and this is where problems begin. David is the kind of boy that wants to wear his love like a new fur coat, whereas Sarah is the kind of girl that wants to stash her love in a box inside a big box inside a bigger box in the darkness underneath her bed.
Susan puts it better: “To David, love meant declaration. Wasn’t that the whole point? To Sarah, love meant a shared secret. Wasn’t that the whole point?”
As time progresses, Sarah and David break-up. And though they are mere puzzle pieces in the jigsaw that is the Arts program, they seem to be at the centre of everything. So much so, Mr Kingsley puts them on display in one of the many Trust Exercises the students participate (perform?) in.
Halfway through the novel, the reader comes to learn that the first one hundred pages of the book is falsehood. This is what drove me to keep reading until the very end. Sarah and David’s love story is put on display, yes, but by no means is it any more important than everyone else’s stories, especially Karen Wurtzel’s.
I came to learn by reading this book that the truth, especially in relation to something from our past, is not just one thing, not just one person’s account of things. It is skewed and needs to be viewed as the phantasmagoria it is. An event inconsequential to us might just be the central object of another’s origin story. That is why we must be kind and honest with each other and look beyond ourselves. But this is something we usually learn looking back, not in the heat of adolescence when we’re so centred on the self.
The thing I love, and hate at the same time, about this book, is Susan’s way of writing. She pens down her character’s stream of consciousness or rants, and I say this about a lot of authors but it’s so extant in Susan’s book. Besides the jumping back and forth between first and third person, what happens is a lot of repetition and rambling on, as seen in everyday speech. It’s annoying but it just tugs you on and before you know it, you’ve finished the whole book!
I see a lot of me in David, in that, we both share a common fear of expressing our feelings and we are post obsessed with the past. I find myself reminiscing of my time through secondary and primary school a lot, to the point where it now has a huge influence on my writing.
After a long reading drought, this book has definitely satisfied my thirst. Trust Exercise was worth the read.
Until next time!