Jan 29, 13
Read in January, 2013
This novel appeals on many levels. If you're interested in at least a fictionalized version of the inner workings of an Ivy League university's admission process, this gives a believable, thorough feeling, account. If you're interested in reading about the end of a long term, going nowhere relationship, it has that too. If you're interested in the beginnings of a new relationship, that's there too. I suppose what appealed the most to me though was just the theme of completely starting over and reinventing yourself despite, and because of, what your past has held.
Portia Nathan's job for sixteen years involved separating the very best students from piles and piles of the average awesome. She's good at her job but it becomes increasingly clear as the narrative flows, that it does not make her happy. It's a position she's thrown herself into for its ability to completely consume every aspect of the life she doesn't want to think about. For instance, she's in a ten year, live-in, partnership with Princeton faculty, Mark. By all accounts they have an outward appearing nice life with a shared home, stable incomes and dinner parties, but as is often the case, the inner workings are much more complicated. Korelitz presents their relationship as one that's not horrible, just...routine, a situation I'm sure to which a lot of people can relate but which so few people write about. As the novel progresses, Portia's willingness to go routinely through her current life diminishes. You live a lot in Portia's head and get to know her well throughout. It's only a saving grace then that Mark opts to leave her in a parked car in Hartford after admitting he's impregnated a colleague of his. I wonder if Portia would have made any move to extricate herself from that relationship, or even her position as an admissions counselor, had he not left. She made no effort to leave after sleeping with a teacher she'd met on a visit in New Hampshire. Perhaps it's this "waiting for him to do something reprehensible before I act" theme that strikes such a chord with me.
Once Portia's life goes from something to think about to something to act upon, we learn of her having given a child up for adoption when she was a student at Dartmouth. We come to understand the family dynamic that growing up with an activist single Mother manifested. We realize that there are things in life that you can give up but never actually let go. We watch Portia as she transforms from this individual who suffers from a long ago past to a woman who, once forced to change and after a significant grieving time, embraces the new role her life will take with eagerness and excitement. There's a little bit of everything for someone in this novel. My only criticism is that the beginning section was so much larger than the middle and end combined and so the events in the end of the book seemed to fly a bit too fast.