Tiny Pants's Reviews > Admission

Admission by Jean Hanff Korelitz
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Jun 28, 10

did not like it
bookshelves: borrowed-library, fiction
Read in June, 2010

** spoiler alert ** I had to click "contains spoilers" because there is so little information one can get about this book before reading it (the cover blurb elided enough to get past me), and the structure of the book is so firmly predicated on not-knowing, that any information whatsoever is probably too much.

I read this based on a vague recommendation from the New York Times book review, the sense that my general interest in college admissions would serve me well here, and my complicated relationship to fiction written for adults. Basically, I would describe it as much like my relationship to vegetables. Lots of "but it's good for you!" and "just try it, maybe you'll like it."

Here's the thing. I hated vegetables when I was a kid, and now that I'm nearly thirty, I basically still do. I just understand that in many social situations (not to mention for my health), I need to eat vegetables. While there are some that I have managed to learn to tolerate or even mildly like (asparagus, spinach, peas, green beans), vegetables just aren't happening for me.

I sometimes fear it's the same with books written for adults, but then, sometimes, I'll find one that is truly a pleasure(like with that Meg Wolitzer book I recently read). And similarly, sometimes I'll find a recipe -- like squash soup, say -- that is so delicious, I gladly eat my veg.

Most of the time though, I have to choke it down. This book, for me, was the equivalent of my childhood experience of broccoli. Compelled to finish, yet so hard to get down -- slicing it into smaller portions doesn't work, mixing it with other things just makes the other things less pleasurable, trying for it in gulps while holding your nose is even worse. Several reasons:

I understand, having finished it now, that much of the point of the book's structure has to do with the plot. There's a reason so many details are withheld or elided. That said, if an author wants readers to get through a nearly 500-page novel, we need to want it. This protagonist does not make you want it, nor do the uniformly unappealing supporting characters. For nearly three-quarters of the novel, you're basically just fumbling along with this literally absurdly unfocused and unsympathetic woman, wondering "why?" the whole time.

Part of what makes this difficult is the dialogue, which comes off as deeply unrealistic. The main character can seemingly only speak in multi-paragraph-length utterances about the difficulties and yet the inherent fairness of college admissions at Princeton. As I mentioned above, college admissions, particularly at elite schools, fascinates me, and yet this book made me never, ever want to hear about it again (if you on the other hand, still do, let me recommend to you Mitchell Stevens' fantastic Creating a Class instead).

The protagonist gives lengthy disquisitions on this topic to other characters at the slightest provocation -- it literally appears to be all she's capable of talking about -- and, oh joy! as readers we are privy to her internal monologue on the topic as well. Having now finished it I get it -- she's hiding behind her work -- but to get through it as a reader was really difficult. I think at least some omniscient narration might have suited this book better, so we could see behind the curtain a bit even if the protagonist was unwilling to reveal herself.

All of this leads up to the book's third act, which feels incredibly hasty after the several hundred pages of build-up that lead to it. Long-term issues that appeared hugely important and received pages upon pages of text get resolved in literally several sentences. It feels like all of these conflicts were exhaustively set up, and then either the author or editor or somebody was like "wait, this isn't The Stand, we need to wrap it up or Barnes & Noble won't be able to fit more than two at a time on their 'New Releases' shelf." Much as I was willing it to end, the resolutions felt rushed and unearned.

So much so that I think even the editor (or copy editor?) was rushing by the end -- I know this is nit-picking, but this kind of thing drives me berserk. On page 400 of the hardcover edition, a minor character who on page 399 was female and out of town dealing with a family emergency is now male and physically present. I hate to resort to this, but WTF is that. You can't make me read 400 pages of godforesaken novel just for that. (Spoiler alert: That character is indeed female and just back from dealing with said family emergency within ten pages.)

And that's not the only continuity error on that page. A few more occur before the book ends a mere 50 or so pages later (name changes mostly). It just made me feel, along with the off-camera and hasty resolutions, like all concerned had abandoned the project by that point. And yet I had not! It pains me to give a book this lengthy and obviously laboriously researched such an awful review, but I just can't come up with anything I enjoyed about it.

No, wait! Nobody's dog died. (I know it sounds like I'm joking, but seriously, it is a blessing to read any "serious" fiction book with pets that miraculously make it through alive.)
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Comments (showing 1-2 of 2) (2 new)

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Maggie Well put.

Alanna Ugh that error bugged me too!

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