Choi, Susan. 2013. My education. New York: Viking.
Regina Gottlieb—rash, passionate, and overly confident—begins her graduate school career fixated on a charismatic professor and ends up falling in love with his wife. So all-consuming is her love that she drops out of school and attempts to insert herself into her lover’s life as a partner and co-parent, while guiltily retaining respect for her professor and trying to keep it secret from him.
At 21, Regina’s behavior is developmentally typical; she is completely absorbed in her relationship and thinks it will last forever. She is jealous of her lover’s husband, child, and job, and wants to be her primary priority. Her lover, Martha, on the other hand, is 33 and has responsibilities that Regina has never even considered. For her, the affair is an exciting excuse to get out of a marriage she is no longer interested in. These competing goals and radically different life stages inevitably doom the relationship, and it ends dramatically.
After a heartbreaking period of alcoholism, disordered eating, and empty affairs—all attempts to get over Martha, or at least deaden her emotions toward her—Regina somehow gets her life together. The novel suddenly skips ahead 15 years and we find her married with a child of her own, and a successful novelist to boot.
It seems clear that the education referred to in the title is not about love but obsession. Anyone who fell in love with someone inappropriate in their youth will find many familiar thought patterns and self-destructive behaviors in this novel. At the end of the book, Regina seems to have finally ended her obsession with Martha, though it’s unclear whether she’s truly happy with her life.
There were many things I liked about this book: Choi’s writing style is beautiful, with exquisite word choices, expansive details, and witty dialog. Unfortunately, sometimes her attentiveness to detail produces paragraphs dedicated to describing something minor that distracts from the emotional tone. Each paragraph is a masterpiece, though sometimes I felt unsure of the point.
My Education won the 2014 Lambda Literary Award for Bisexual Fiction.