Review Copy provided by Hachette Book Group
“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.”
For years, 38-year-old Portia Nathan has avoided the past, hiding behind her busy (and sometimes punishing) career as a Princeton University admissions officer and her dependable domestic life. Her reluctance to confront the truth is suddenly overwhelmed by the resurfacing of a life-altering decision, and Portia is faced with an extraordinary test. Just as thousands of the nation’s brightest students await her decision regarding their academic admission, so too must Portia decide whether to make her own ultimate admission.
It wasn’t until after setting aside this review, and re-reading the above, that I see more than what I did immediately after finishing this book.
Portia does indeed have a decision to make – actually several. As the first quote shows, there are many kinds of “admissions”. Those that allow and those that acknowledge. The speaker indicates these definitions are on opposing sides; however I would add that they are so closely related, they are actually two sides of the same coin.
Admission is about Portia Nathan facing both “sides to the word”. In doing so, she puts into motion events that will not only change her life, but other’s lives as well.
The author sets up her character beautifully, giving the reader a glimpse of the woman beneath the exterior she shows to others.
This passage is Portia ruminating on an applicant to Princeton:
And this last, from a girl in Greenwich, Connecticut, who was smart enough to know that she wasn’t smart enough, only just very, very smart, and wrote with preemptive defeat about her hospital internship and the inspiration of her older brother, who had survived childhood cancer to attend law school. Smart enough to know about, or at least imagine, the ones she would be compared with, who had been handed so much less than she, and done so much more with what they had, while the children of privilege were penalized for having been fortunately born, comfortably raised, and excellent in all of the ordinary ways. Sometimes those were the ones who got to Portia most of all.
And as we get deeper into the book, we also get deeper into the character:
Surely they never felt about themselves the way Portia felt about herself: addled by insecurities, endlessly halted by doubt.
A good story has a character you can identify with in some way, it gets you to care about him or her so that you want to go all the way to the end to find out what happens. You do so because you want to know what decisions do they make? Are they the right ones? Have I done the same? Would I do the same? Is anything we have done set in stone and unchangeable?
This is what kept me going as this book is a bit on the thick side. Not a detraction as Korelitz did a good job at keeping the narrative smooth and flowing. In fact I’m hard pressed to find anything negative about this novel.
I enjoyed her style: not too contemporary, nor too formal. I did guess the “secret” in her past; but this story isn’t about the secret as much as it is how Portia handles it resurfacing.
Admission is a book I highly recommend and will keep, knowing that I will re-read it someday. I’m not sure I would ever loan it out. That, more than anything, is why I am giving this 5 Stars.
She’s also written a children’s novel, Interference Powder, and has contributed essays and articles to several anthologies and many magazines.