Greg's Reviews > Admission

Admission by Jean Hanff Korelitz
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's review
Feb 01, 2013

liked it
Read in February, 2013

For people who like: Ivy League stuff, snobby stuff, to debate about the haves and have nots, vaguely smutty chick lit with some high mindedness, good story-telling

Okay now I know. I have to put down something about the book immediately after I read it or else malaise sets in. I've felt really lazy these days, also super busy, and, recently, super sick. So today I took a sick day and read Admission, which is tangentially related to work so it didn't feel like I took the day off. I also remembered how much I love sleeping.

My opinion of Admission constantly changed as I read it. I kind of did that thing that I hate where I was imagining what kind of book it was as I was reading it. This sounds super douche-y, but I am usually right in my predictions, and I was right on with the plot point predictions (not that it is honestly that hard to predict), but as a whole, Korelitz kind of surprised me. I was anticipating a cautionary tale type of thing, but I didn't get it. I mean there's a bit of that, and the character trajectory is in many ways the same as that type of story, but the impetus feels quite different, which I liked. (view spoiler) I think that difference, that why, does a good job of tying up some structural issues I had.

When John was first introduced, I got quite annoyed because it seemed like Korelitz was simply using the admissions processing and Portia's career as an admissions counselor as a metaphor for some interpersonal gobble-gook chick lit cliche bullshit. Yes there's a bit of thwarted romance-y stuff going on, but when Portia (view spoiler) it feel like I understand what Korelitz was going for. I respect the careful way she constructed the narrative, to lead us from John to Jeremiah to New Hampshire and Jeremiah's story to Tom in the past and then all the way back to Jeremiah in committee. You see a little of the strain in the inelegant flashback and I was frustrated by how Korelitz confused tension with vagueness in both the New Hampshire scenes and the flashbacks. When the reader has to blindly follow the author on nothing but the faint glimmer that he/she has got this, it can be super frustrating. Aside from that, the mechanics of the story work, but most of all I loved that anti-climax. I loved that constant buildup (this time with real tension) to committee, where all the applicants get their five to ten minutes of consideration. Then with all of Portia's overthinking, it's done and over in a flash. (view spoiler) Just perfectly in line with the theme. All that handwringing over how this will affect the child ends up with a definite, almost always unsatisfying answer.

Note on the flashback. I didn't like them structurally, but Korelitz did a fabulous job in the writing. As I was reading them, I felt a palpable ping of sadness and regret in my cold robot heart for my college days.

That thematic stuff was a bit of a slog. Korelitz obviously feels passionate about the admissions process, but the long conversations about admissions often seemed carted in from somewhere else. I'm not sure Korelitz figured out how to clearly bridge the interpersonal with the career, but these long conversations about admissions were not the way to do it. Don't get me wrong, I liked reading them, but they didn't seem to fit. Oh, and don't tell me that the breathless declaration that "Admissions. Admission. Aren't there two sides to the word? And two opposing sides...It's what we let in, but it's also what we let out" is an adequate way to tie things together because it's tenuous at best.

Portia's an interesting character. A total nutbar neurotic, which I loved, who is totally self-obsessed and can't relate to many people, which I totally relate to. Her oh-so-secret shame was pretty damn obvious to me and Mark's oh-so-secret indiscretion was also pretty damn obvious. That obviousness doesn't bother me. At this point in our culture, with everyone spoiling things left and right, knowing what comes next is really a moot point. If you do a good job at tension and leading me from one place to another, then I can enjoy the ride even though I know the destination. What bothered me was the need for vagueness. It's charades. I'm meant to act like I don't know what Helen's big big secret is and I'm meant to act like I don't know why Mark was angry at Portia for fighting with Helen. It's all just going through the motions, on both ends. I don't think that's how we get tension.

Oof! Always with the negativity. Final takeaway: Slightly wishy-washy, but well-written dissection the admissions process and one woman's journey to self-actualization. Or something like that.

Also, final takeaway: It's not just me! Admissions counselors don't reply to anyone's e-mails, not only to those who work in university departments of which they don't see the point.

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