Susan Choi’s new novel, “Trust Exercise,” is a story about passion, betrayal and the blurry lines between fiction and real life. It focuses on a group of teenagers at a performing arts high school in the 1980s and their fraught relationships with the eccentric teachers whom they idolize.
As part of their theatrical curriculum, the teens in Choi’s novel study trust exercises: crawling around in the dark, falling backwards into classmates’ arms and something called “ego deconstruction.” Choi herself attended a performing arts high school in Houston, where she learned a lot of the same theatrical techniques that are in the novel.
“These are acting exercises that I didn't make up by any stretch, but these were codified exercises,” Choi tells Kurt Andersen. “I've been interested in this kind of enforced group activity for the sake of a social engineering outcome. In ‘Trust Exercise,’ they have a teacher who is remaking them in accordance with what they don't really recognize at the time is an ideology.”