I stayed up late last night reading Admission by Jean Hanff Korelitz. I liked this book from the first page and only was frustrated while reading because I could never find enough uninterrupted time to make any real progress in the book. Portia Nathan is an admissions counselor at Princeton. She travels from school to school talking to interested juniors and seniors about their college options, returning from her travels to take up life with her partner, Mark. The two have been together for sixteen years, yet never married. Eventually Portia's well organized, picture perfect life starts to unravel. She is forced to remember her own college days when she encounters John Halsey, a fellow Dartmouth graduate. While Portia has no recollection of him, he was in the same fraternity as her college boyfriend, Tom. John is now working at an alternative school, Quest, where Portia finds a student that intrigues and excites her. She encourages Jeremiah to apply to Princeton despite his abysmal grades and track record at the local high school. After discovering where and when Jeremiah is born Portia realizes her own connection to him. Meanwhile her relationship with Mark comes to an abrupt end when she finds out he has taken up with a new Princeton hire and is expecting a child with her.
Korelitz's novel contains so much more than I can convey in a short posting about it. I was reminded of Curtis Sittenfeld's novel Prep while I was reading, and while each page took me a while to read, it was only because of the superb writing that I didn't want to miss a word of. I have thought about the ending for a while now, and while I was at first totally satisfied, or at least content with the ending, I am now hours later wondering exactly how things turned out. Perhaps we could check up on Portia and John and Jeremiah in a few years' time and see if they are happy.
I have heard the advice "write what you know" repeatedly. Korelitz follows this well. She is a graduate of Dartmouth (where Portia attended) and has been a part time reader for Princeton's office of Admission in past years. This book, although fiction, gives an interesting perspective into the competitiveness to attend an Ivy League college.