Short Takes

Short Takes: Book reviews, in brief

From staff reportsJuly 20, 2013 

Fiction

My Education

Susan Choi, Viking, 304 pages

Regina Gottlieb is a graduate student in her first days at a prestigious university who is drawn to a handsome English professor whose reputation has been both burnished and tarnished by rumors of sexual misbehavior. Nicholas Brodeur, she muses, was “certainly the best-looking man I had seen to that point in my life.” So enthralled by Brodeur and his dangerous aura that she enrolls in a seminar for which she is severely under qualified, Regina soon becomes Brodeur’s teaching assistant and is drawn into his innermost circle. There, “My Education,” by Susan Choi, takes an unexpected twist by thrusting Regina into a torrid affair with Brodeur’s wife, Martha, also a professor. And the novel itself becomes an exploration of love, loss and obsession.

Choi, whose previous novels have been finalists for the Pulitzer Prize and for the PEN/Faulkner Award, is at her best when describing the soul-consuming, life-spinning vortex of Regina’s desperate, needy love for Martha. Choi wields a dazzling dexterity with language, spicing the novel with gems of precisely-crafted phrasing and slivers of insight into the human psyche.

Ultimately, however, the novel suffers from the self-absorption of its central characters. Although painted as alluring, magnetic women, Regina and Martha emerge as selfish and unlikeable, only dimly aware of the impact their actions have on the lives of those around them. Even Regina’s eventual awakening rings hollow, a redemptive act negated by an all-too-facile infidelity.

Associated Press

Nonfiction

Environmental Debt: The Hidden Cost of a Changing Global Economy

Amy Larkin, Palgrave Macmillan, 256 pages

Money doesn’t grow on trees, especially not when you’ve cut down all the trees to reap short-term profits, argues a former Greenpeace USA official pitching conservation to corporate executives. Amy Larkin might be expected to publish a screed against corporations for their polluting greed. Instead, “Environmental Debt” highlights the efforts companies such as Puma, Wal-Mart, Coca-Cola, McDonald’s and Tiffany & Co. – yes, the same brands many so-called tree-huggers might associate with global ills – have already made to reduce waste, change their supply chains and embrace environmentally sustainable practices.

Larkin, now a consultant with her own firm, isn’t pushing for more government regulations, though she does encourage executives to invest in the infrastructure that governments build and maintain. She puts her pitch in terms businesspeople understand: It all comes down to money. Successful companies, Larkin argues, understand that they will pay more for resources and production down the line if they don’t invest now in energy-efficient upgrades and other changes.

“Environmental Debt” is presumably Larkin’s consulting pitch in book-length form, but it raises a question that consumers might consider as well as corporations: Are you taking the long view?

Associated Press

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