fiction in which the author self-consciously alludes to the artificiality or literariness of a work by parodying or departing from novelistic conventions (especially naturalism) and traditional narrative techniques.
“the followers of Borges had retreated into airless metafiction”
I am a huge fan of metafiction and stream of conscious writing interspersed throughout a novel. Kurt Vonnegut is one of the masters of this writing technique and Susan Choi, the author of this book, is well on her way with Trust Exercise.
Why start with a definition of metafiction? Because after reading many reviews it was clear that the readers didn’t have the patience to watch it unfold or wanted a conventional novel format.
But if a reader goes into this with open eyes, I believe your experience will be quite different than when reading the tired, multi-POV format of a plot where each chapter is named for the character speaking at that particular moment.
The story begins in the 1980’s at a highly competitive school for the arts. This setting drew me in immediately as a child of the 80’s and a current theatre parent of a high school daughter in a very competitive program.
I saw her and her friends in the characters. I saw bits of her directors in the teachers in the book – but only glimmers as her directors are tough at times but never inappropriate in using their power and authority as teachers.
That was not the case in this book and the reoccurring theme was the power that adults held over impressionable young teens and the abuse of that power.
This was also my reasoning for the 4.5 ✂️‘s rating because there was an ick factor reading and watching the students do what the felt they needed to do to get ahead.
Sarah, David, and their fellow classmates are under the instruction of their charismatic director, Mr. Kingsley. He pushes every boundary, every envelope, and the students arrive at their individual breaking points during the first third of the book.
It isn’t until the second 1/3 that the curtain is pulled back and the reader learns that what happened isn’t completely true yet not completely false either.
Without providing spoilers, here is where the reader has to stick with it as the metafictional elements are revealed and secrets begin to come to light. This is also where the stream of consciousness style of writing begins. You may find yourself flipping back a few pages to confirm what you just read but it was worth it for me.
The final 1/3 shifts once again and the true secrets are revealed – the driving force behind each fictional account.
While this was a challenging read, I enjoyed it immensely. The plot twists and the technique to execute the shifts were unorthodox and surprising. There were a few times where I found myself wondering where the book was going but I’m glad I stuck with it to the end.
Who would enjoy this book? Kurt Vonnegut fans for sure. But also Virginia Woolf readers and in current times, readers who enjoy Helen Oyeyemi and her unique stream of consciousness writing style.
It’s clear to me why the author, Susan Choi, has won multiple awards for her writing as well as being a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. This will not be my last Susan Choi novel.
Great review. Love that you took the time to define meta fiction. The discovery that there is more than one way to approach fiction both as an author and reader, can be life-changing! I love your passion for discovering all that reading has to offer and so generously sharing your learning.
Thank you! My love of metafiction runs deep. And then I fell in love with stream of consciousness writing after reading The Waves.