Susan Choi is most recently the author of Trust Exercise (2019), which won the National Book Award for fiction, and her first book for children, Camp Tiger (2019). Her first novel, The Foreign Student, won the Asian-American Literary Award for fiction. Her second novel, American Woman, was a finalist for the 2004 Pulitzer Prize. Her third novel, A Person of Interest, was a finalist for the 2009 PEN/Faulkner Award. In 2010 she was named the inaugural recipient of the PEN/W.G. Sebald Award. Her fourth novel, My Education, received a 2014 Lammy Award. A recipient of fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Guggenheim Foundation, she teaches fiction writing at Yale and lives in Brooklyn.
From Trust Exercise
In the future, Joelle will run away. She will simply disappear, halfway through senior year. Rumors will abound of her reasons, her means, her location. Her father beat her with a belt and a stick and tied her to a tree; she’d been sent to live with him by her mother, for being too wild. Her father has the FBI looking for her, he has doors broken down, Joelle’s spotted all sorts of places: Tampa; Waikiki; New York; the background of the Aerosmith video for “Love in an Elevator,” in which she is said to be one of the dancers. Confirmation of any of this awaits a farther future than the one in which she runs away.
In the future, Pammie will decide to be an astronaut. It’s no frivolous decision, though she’s remained, to her grief, overweight. She must go back to school and learn physics. After physics, a diet.
In the future, Taniqua will become one of the most recognizable television actresses on earth. She’ll play a cop on a long-running show about rookie cops growing and changing in the course of becoming experienced cops. Taniqua will play the absolutely humorless female cop, whose awful past (of course), full of poverty and abuse and incarcerated fathers and drug-addicted mothers and shot-to-death brothers, accounts for her absolute humorlessness. Her old classmates, from her youth, will hardly believe it’s bright, sassy Taniqua who’s playing that humorless cop. They’ll keep thinking that her hidden sense of humor, its belated revelation, will have to provide a plot point, but year after year it does not. Nor do her good singing voice or her dancing. None of these seemingly central aspects of Taniqua will ever appear in her signature role. She’ll play that role for years, and be rich.
In the future, Norbert will be a manager at Whataburger. This will be so consistent with their cruelest expectations of him that they’ll dislike him even more, for not proving them wrong. Norbert, so incurably himself. So stubbornly immune to all those means of metamorphosis.
In the future, Ms. Rozot’s prediction in fact will come true. Things, at least the sorts of things implied in that discussion, like heartbreak, will hurt less, although the range of hurtful things will expand. Heartbreak will come to seem like a rather luxurious reason for pain. There will also be the failings of the body and the wallet. The extinction of friendships. The crimes against children committed by grown-ups. And the inexplicable, small kindnesses, which somehow pierce Sarah most deeply of all, as when she left the house one summer day so distracted she forgot to zip her sleeveless summer dress, so a wide slit was open from armpit to hip, through which her bra and her panties could clearly be seen, and she walked this way, obliviously, all the way to the park, where a strange woman cried, “Sweetie! How have you been?” and embraced her.
And while Sarah stood bewildered in her arms, the woman said in her ear, “Your dress is open. I’ll keep hugging until you’ve zipped it.” And Sarah zipped, and then they stepped apart and said goodbye as if actual friends, keeping up the charade until turning and walking their opposite ways. And Sarah recalled, for the first time in years, that acting was truthful emotions in false circumstances. She already missed that strange woman, her make-believe friend.
In the future, David will be so changed it will be hard to give credence to the David she first knew in these mid-teenage years. It will be hard not to see that young David as sort of a sham, a lightweight cocoon through which the future David, knobbly and heavy and hard, is already beginning to obtrude. Or perhaps this younger David really is an insubstantial shell. Perhaps they all are.
- Interview with Ailsa Chang. NPR. 9 April 2019.
- “Susan Choi’s ‘Trust Exercise’ invites you to recall the highs and humiliations of adolescence.” The Washington Post. 4 April 2019.
- “For the Performing Arts Students in This Novel, Drama Is a Way of Life.” New York Times. 1 April 2019.
Susan Choi in Conversation with Maureen Corrigan | September 29, 2020