Your novel, Admission, turned this law-abiding and respectable retiree into a thief. I was in the local Laundromat when I realized I forgot my crossword puzzle, so I looked around for a magazine. There on the window seat was a lone book, your book. I recalled reading a review of it in The New York Times. I picked it up and read your first sentence: “The flight from Newark to Hartford took no more than fifty-eight minutes, but she still managed to get her heart broken three times.” I was hooked! Who was this woman? And who dared break her heart mid-flight?
Up in the Air to the contrary, flying today is about as romantic as belching but without the accompanying relief. I had to know more about a woman who could get her heart broken while sitting accordion pleated between a mom gently suggesting to her shrieking toddler that kicking the seat in front of him was not a wise decision and a man wearing suspiciously clunky shoes muttering under his breath in a foreign language. Oblivious to the whirling wash, I read on, putting your novel down only to heave my quilt into the dryer. After that machine finished its work, I glanced furtively at the one other person in the Laundromat. She was engrossed in carefully folding an entire load of jeans, so, vowing to return it, I stuffed Admission into my backpack, folded my clean comforter and slunk out.
That morning I’d been working on a short story and was dissatisfied, particularly with the way it began. Reading and rereading your gem of an opener helped me return to my own work convinced that with more thought and tweaking, I, too, might come up with an engaging start for my story. But it wasn’t only the beginning of Admission that I savored. I was taken by the heartbroken Portia, your novel’s central character, an admissions officer of Princeton University. Her eagerness to sleep with a colleague on a business trip makes her seem, at first, more like a stereotypical guy. But later, her personal history─ being raised by a second wave feminist of my generation only to be dumped, depressed, and canned─ resonates thanks to your exacting portrayal of both women and their times. I admire your ability to weave Portia’s backstory into the novel in a way that adds intrigue to its plot and layers to its themes. It’s not easy to do that.
Your insider’s view of the admission process at Princeton is also detailed and provides perspective on the academy as workplace and on the personal, political, and social issues that affect gatekeepers and applicants to the Ivies. Portia’s job description includes reading and judging the college application essays of thousands of high school seniors, and it is these aspiring youngsters, most of whose essays she must weed out, who break her heart over and over again. You let us read snatches of these poignant pieces over her shoulder, illuminating the inexact and painful process of creating and/or maintaining the American elite.
Part of your book is set, of course, at Princeton, but Portia’s work takes her also to western Massachusetts where she grew up. My husband and I lived in Amherst for two and a half years, and found the Pioneer Valley’s gentle hills, picturesque farms, and four seasons to be as lovely as they appear on the catalog covers of the five colleges and numerous prep schools located there. Seeing the educational extremes that flourish in this corner of New England through Portia’s jaded eyes was illuminating.
Thanks for writing engagingly and convincingly about a complex woman living, working, and loving in an imperfect world. Now I’ll get your book back to the Laundromat!