The Ecstatic, Violent Joy of Susan Choi’s My Education


Photo: Courtesy of the publisher

For her debut novel, Luster, Raven Leilani wanted to write a Black woman who was “pure id.” Her protagonist, Edie, a 23-year-old art-school dropout who is fired from her publishing gig for having sex on the job, thirsts after an older white man she meets online — not despite the power differential between them but because of it. The sex scenes Leilani crafts are violent, debasing, and fluid, the engine of the book’s plot and of Edie’s eventual self-revelation. For those scenes and the novel itself, she found inspiration in Susan Choi’s My Education.

From Susan Choi’s My Education:

I would have liked a single rope to bind us together, with tightly stacked coils, so that we formed a sort of Siamese mummy within which our two bodies got mashed into one — and having fought me to half an arm’s length so she could undo my jeans, and peel them off with a hard downward step of her deft pointed foot, she simply seized me by the armpits and heaved me away from her onto the bed, and as I struggled to regain her kiss pinned me flat with the heel of her hand so that she could, when I gave up the struggle, with a leisurely sigh sink her face in my cunt. I seemed to come right away, with a hard, popping effervescence, as if her mouth had raised blisters, or an uppermost froth; but beneath, magma still heaved and groaned and was yearning to fling itself into the air. Until now, my orgasms had been deep and ponderous things; slow to yield to excavation; self-annihilating when they finally did, so that in their wake I felt voided and calm, every yen neutralized, and gazed on whoever had managed the work with benign noninterest. Never had there been this tormenting, self-heightening pleasure, like a hail of hot stones, and yet she seemed to recognize just what had happened, so that before I had even stopped keening she bore down again. She made me come so many times that afternoon that had I been somewhat older, I might have dropped dead. Had

I been a doll, she might have twisted off each of my limbs, and sucked the knobs until they glistened, and drilled her tongue into each of the holes. Certainly had the windows been open, as would have made sense on that sunny June day, my thundering cries, in the end, would have summoned the neighbors; for Martha, in dismantling me, dredged a voice out of me I did not know I owned; the devastation of my pleasure surged outward and outward again, like an ocean-floor tremor, while that voice I had never imagined was bellowing harshly Oh GOD, Oh GOD, OHGODOHGOD!

The kind of book I’m looking for tends to have obsession at its core. When we begin My Education, we’re introduced to the protagonist Regina’s desire through the figure of her professor, this problematic and seductive person she becomes enamored with. That’s where we start. Where we end is with the professor’s wife, Martha. My book basically does the same thing. There’s something deeply off limits about that arrangement — a subversion of the reader’s expectation.


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