In the heat of September, and the heady rush of starting her graduate degree, Regina Gottlieb is entranced by her seductive, controversial English professor, Nicholas Brodeur. Against all advice, she becomes embroiled in his world, only to betray him in a passionate love affair with the person closest to him.
Their romance destroys the equilibrium of all those around them, and threatens to capsize their lives, as Regina and her lover struggle to bridge the gap between duty and desire, obsession and self-preservation.
I was with this book right until the last act, whereupon it makes you look back and see the flaws, that you thought were there by design, were not. It’s beautifully written, there’s a nervous energy to it that takes you through to the last act. It falls flat on it’s face there though.
The obsessive energy between Regina and her lover, who happens to be Nicholas’ wife is emboldened by the details that Choi puts in. The minute details, the little notes that show a moment that changes and destroys more than one life work up to a point. The erotic energy is intense, all the more so for how mannered and detailed the writing is here, and I had gone into this book cold without knowing anything about Choi or her work.
However, the narcissism of the narrator, the immaturity that she displays, the blithe lack of self awareness are undermined by the implication of the last act that they are not intentional. There needed to be some kind of story discipline here, it wanders beautifully but it does so without a destination in mind. All that energy Choi builds up just dissipates into a conclusion that just peters out.
It develops but goes nowhere, and the 2007 section undermines all that heat and power that she has developed, that allows you to ignore the overly complex, look at me wordplay and gelid slabs of exposition that a better editor would have cut out like a rotting appendix. By the end of the book, I realised that this is a Mary Sue, there’s nothing to reward the unconditional love and affection that is bestowed upon her, the work of showing has not been done because it’s all couched in verbal filigree. In the 2007 section, whereupon it becomes an ode to domestic bliss with a side order of the kind of narcissism that is killing humanity, the motive for Regina to marry and have a child called Lion, yes Lion is the events of 9/11.
She’s also a successful author for a ‘low brow’ book written as an act of revenge but she has no plans to write another. No, because that would imply that Regina has a life beyond the page and that any emotional investment would be better placed in a pet rock. Said low brow book is probably low brow because it has an actual story to it. I finished The God of Small Things before this, and it does everything that Choi wanted this book to do with the important addition of an actual story. Also, if you’re going to have revelations, then it is notionally a good idea to have set up that expectation in some form before you unleash them.
It’s beautifully written, hyperbolic and yet somehow unsatisfying in it’s conclusion.