Monday, March 21, 2011

Admission

Clever, double entendre titles are also a double-edged sword.  On the one hand, Jean Hanff Korelitz's novel Admission is perfectly titled: it's about an admissions officer who struggles with admitting to a great secret she's hung onto for seventeen years.  And on the other hand, it's just a little too cute and a little too perfect, which describes the novel adequately as well.

Coincidences are at the heart of most fiction, and most lives.  Who hasn't sat around with their friends, usually a bit drunk, and speculated on how your lives would have been different had you and your spouse/best friend/girlfriend not been in the same coffee shop at the same time/at the same college/on the same bus?  Well, yes, your lives would have been different; but then again, that's how you meet anyone: anything is a coincidence in retrospect.  Which is why I'm not too harsh a judge of coincidence in fiction.  Truth is actually stranger.

In the case of Admission, even my tolerant attitude toward coincidences had to stretch more than a little.  I can't describe the coincidences I'm referring to - the whole book is built around one particular event, and while I fully expect anyone who's paying attention to figure out the great mystery within thirty pages or so, why not let you have your own fun - but believe me when I say that even the greatest credulity will be strained by some of them.

Otherwise, Admission is a perfectly decent novel.  Korelitz manages to pull off a fair amount of melodrama with a light enough touch that it never becomes obnoxious.  In fact, she's a good writer, with the exception of a couple of stylistic nit-picks that wouldn't, perhaps, bother anyone but me.  My biggest peeve was her overuse of the emphatic double negative: "not unrelated" and the like.  It's a good construction, and I use it myself, but Korelitz could have turned a few of those into positive constructions and it wouldn't have hurt the book.  She also tends to repeat words that are just unusual enough to pop out at you: "... she said unkindly" and "preemptively" or "preemptive" being the two that stuck with me.  There were a couple of places in which a word other than "preemptive" actually would have been more accurate, and that bothered me even more than the repetition.

Within its genre - contemporary fiction - I give Admission a solid three and a half stars.  The plot isn't worth that much, and really should be more of a two and a half, but I'm adding a full star for the simple fact that the writing style isn't self-conscious or pretentious.

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