Trust Exercise

Pub Date:   |   Archive Date: 27 Mar 2019

Member Reviews

Slippery, brutal, and written in firecracking, feverish prose, Trust Exercise performs a breathtakingly audacious sleight of hand trick but is equally effective in its fullblooded invocation of the agonies and ecstasies of adolescence.
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I found Trust Exercise an interesting read - I hadn't actually heard of Susan Choi before I started seeing people talking about Trust Exercise on social media and, as its themes are of interest to me, I thought I would check it out.

It was actually far more experimental than I was anticipating, although this only becomes fully clear in the second half of the book. However, although I'm not sure I fully *understood* Trust Exercise, I did enjoy it, and, in fact, the more experimental and potentially confusing it got, the more I enjoyed it. I would recommend to people who like a challenging read - it's definitely a book that merits discussion/analysis, I think - not necessarily one to just enjoy on your own!
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I've never read a book like this before - interesting premise. I can't say I really connected with any of the character's.
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This experimental novel discusses consent by shifting timelines and perspectives, thus forcing the reader to question and re-adjust which characters to trust - and it's no spoiler to state that in the end, no one will turn out to be who you thought they'd be. Choi starts with a high school drama that then turns into a meta-fictional revenge tale only to end in an even more disturbing coda, and I just love how she defies expectations and disrupts narrative conventions: There's a certain brutality in the ever-shifting reading experience, and the novel also requires some detective work in oder to find out what is actually going on, so there's all the stuff I enjoy in experimental fiction! 

In the first part of the book (there are no chapters or other indicators, you have to unlock the story) which takes place in the early 80s, we meet Sarah and David who are students at a renowned arts high school in an unnamed big city in the southern part of the United States. In an environment full of aspiring artists who dream of taking the big stage, dynamics of power and dependency unfold. The enigmatic theater teacher uses his position to manipulate students, and he submits them under so-called "trust exercises" where they have to look at each other, repeat each other's sentences or openly reveal all kinds of hidden thoughts. When David and Sarah fall in love, their relationship quickly turns sour and Sarah ends up having an affair with a much older theater teacher who visits the school with his own students from England. 

I will certainly NOT tell you what happens next, because it would ruin the reading experience for you, but let me say that after reading the whole novel, you will give a very different account regarding what happens in the book than I just did. Choi negotiates power in sexual relationships, responsibilty, victimhood, and awareness, and she does it in a very clever, challenging way. Other reviewers compared this book to Asymmetry, and there is some truth to that, but Choi uses her narrative shifts to constantly re-write part one, thus illustrating the effects of framing, scope, perspective and also empathy. Here, the asymmetry is brought about by the point of view and, above all, the judgement passed by different characters. 

I applaud Susan Choi for this daring feat of a book, it's engaging, suprising and intelligent. I hope she'll get nominated for some awards, because this novel deserves attention.
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An interesting formal experiment, but a pity one has to wade through the first half to get to the "twist." I found the teenage characters totally unconvincing – they read as though they are at least 10 years older than they're supposed to be. Raises interesting questions about reliability, consent and how we tell stories about ourselves and others.
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Trust Exercise is an interesting exercise in unreliable narration. A story is told from one point of view, and then we go over the same ground from other perspectives.
The story centres around Sarah and David, who burn out their teenage romance in a few months but still have to see each other every day. Unfortunately for the reader, neither of them are nice people, so it us hard for us to care.
The only nice character is Karen, who is pretty poorly treated in the story. Consent between adults and adolescents plays a large part in the story,  resulting in some icky revelations and bad consequences. It is not a very enjoyable read.  Three stars.
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This novel centres on a group of teenagers at a performing arts school and then shifts to them as adults and their differing perspectives.
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Trust Exercise is a difficult book to rate. Certainly it's clever, but I think it's too clever for its own good. The sudden shifts in narrative don't flow, and the first major one completely threw me for a few pages until I realised what was happening and where I now was. The story raises some interesting questions about the nature of consent, and of power dynamics between teens and adults. However, I never connected with any of the characters. I could relate a little to Karen, but Sarah and David were not especially 'likeable'; I couldn't bring myself to care about them and their hyped-up problems. I think some of the issues stem from the way the book is presented, as what I got from it is absolutely nothing like what I expected from reading the blurb. This review feels negative, but in actual fact it is more middling. I didn't hate the book--I enjoyed the performing arts setting, and I thought it posed some important questions, many of which are very timely, given current events. But I couldn't fully connect with it, or with its characters, which left me apathetic overall. I would give this book three stars. It makes some interesting points, but its narrative structure, and lack of deep empathy with the characters, lets it down.
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Trust Exercise is a novel split into parts, about a performing arts high school, first love, and friendship. Sarah and David are drawn obsessively together and then fall apart. Mr Kingsley, their charismatic and experimental drama teacher, makes them do trust exercises. Visitors from England disrupt the class. And then, in the second section of the novel, looking back, what happened in the first part seems less certain. The narrative starts to question reality, storytelling, and the definition of consent.

The narrative structure is clever and serves well to highlight the ways in which teenagers view events and how adults (and just different people) might look back on them. The writing style serves this purpose too, asking what is real with unusual perspective. However, the issue is that this doesn't quite come together with the narrative to create an engaging novel. Other people may find that it does, but personally, it just didn't quite work and wasn't a book that had an impetus to keep reading to find out more. It wasn't bad to read, more of an indifferent read, but this was a shame as it's clearly meant to be insightful and clever.
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