Sponsored Review- My Education (AKA: Hot Lesbian Sex)

Hot lesbian sex. Three words that if Penguin used in their marketing campaign Susan Choi's My Education would be an instant New York Times Bestseller (and will simultaneously lead a lot of pervy men to blog... sorry guys). 

But, then again, who really wants to be a NYT Bestseller? For crap's sake Nicholas Sparks and Danielle Steele are on that list. Besides, My Education is far, far better than the normal riffraff that finds it's way up there.

Back to the lesbians. 

Regina Gottlieb is a young graduate student that becomes a TA for a notorious professor on campus, Nicholas Brodeur. Rumors fly about his sexual liaisons with students and tumultuous marriage with his expecting wife, Martha. Regina looks past this and falls into the comfortable routine of attending her own classes, assisting a Chaucer class, and developing a friendship with her roommate Dutra (with the occasional benefit ifyaknowwhatImean). Months later, she is at a party at Brodeur's home when sparks fly between Regina and Martha (who has since delivered her son). A passionate affair commences, Martha leaving her baby with the nanny and eventually asking Nicholas for a separation.

From the start it is apparent that Regina is far more invested in the blossoming relationship than Martha is. The story becomes one of obsession- Regina's only purpose in life is to be the other half of Martha. She drops out of school and fails to maintain any other relationships, her only focus is on her lover, who refuses to acknowledge her presence in public or with her estranged husband.

Eventually their affair is violently and mortally rocked. Regina must cope with loneliness and heartache- she must now return focus to herself. The book fast-forwards over a decade in the future and the reader is able to see how Regina's life has panned out and how the people of her past are still a part of her present.

The writing in this book was both a strength and a weakness. Choi's prose is complex and deliberate. Her vocabulary is extensive and her descriptions thoughtful. Yet at times there was a hint of pretension that surpassed Regina's voice and blurred into that of the writer's.

The issue of sexuality in this novel was quite fascinating. Both women appear to be bisexual, given their pasts and futures. But their relationships and what it means transcends sexuality, with different implications for both women. Regina, as much as I wanted to find depth to her, really was just a young student trying to find herself. She was in a new town, didn't seem to have many friends, had an overbearing mother, and was unsure of herself- her becoming unhealthily attracted to an intelligent, attractive, older woman who was basically the opposite of her own mother (I'm still trying to decide if there are "mommy issues" at play here- perhaps feelings of abandonment? A desire to change and replace?), wasn't surprising. And Martha? She was unhappily married and confined to motherhood- she needed an out with actually having to go out. At first glance it may seem like an unlikely pairing, but with further review it really is not. Frankly, my favorite character actually ended up being Dutra- his laid back charisma and sharp intellect were far more interesting than these two tortured women.

The dynamics of age is also worth a glance. Regina is immature, partly due to the fact that she is only twenty-one, younger than her peers. She's not equipped to handle much of what is thrown at her throughout the course of her book, whether the object of her desire was female or male. Martha, who is in her early thirties, wants to be young, like Regina. She misses her obligation-free days and the scandalous affair she has began with one of her husband's young female students is a glimpse back to that time period. Essentially, she's going through a midlife crisis a bit too early. (And her name- Martha! The name of an eighty-year-old! Her character's persona was so much older than she actually was.)

Don't mistake my frustration as criticism, though. These sorts of accusations and questions are what make the book interesting and thought-provoking (hello, book clubs!). While it did take me twenty or so pages to get invested in the story, once I got into the meat of the book I enjoyed it. While it may not be for everyone, being a little racy and a bit wordy, I do recommend it to those who enjoy Chabon, Cunningham, or Messud.  

Disclosure: Penguin may have generously sent me this copy, but all opinions are my own.

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