A few years ago I read Sabbathday River by Jean Hanff Korelitz and while the ending didn’t quite sit well with me I nevertheless really liked the book and have recommended it to friends. So I was looking forward to reading Admission by the same author.
The topic is not one I’ve encountered before: it’s the story of an admissions officer for Princeton University. Portia Nathan visits high school seniors around the United States and describes the benefits of a Princeton education. Once the applications start flooding in the following winter, Portia, one of several admission officers, goes through the ones from her territory. The process of admission is described in great detail throughout the book in several different ways. As Portia’s story is told we see her progress through the applications, and when she is questioned about the criteria for choosing which students are accepted we see the philosophy behind the admissions. Integrity must be absolute for an admissions officer; they must have good reasons and use good reasoning in choosing who gets to go and who is passed by. More than once Portia’s qualifications for the job are questioned – she after all did not graduate from Princeton but from Dartmouth. Also, she sort of fell into the job – she wasn’t exactly trained for it. Despite that, she loves what she does and enjoys the kids she meets on her school visits.
Knowing how Sabbathday River played out I was expecting a surprise to come out of Portia’s story and I wasn’t disappointed. I won’t say more about that but the story does tie together with Portia’s character, what she does and how she has conducted her life.
For the most part I enjoyed Admission. It was well written and depicts a fascinating process that I’d never even thought about before. I don’t know if the same procedure for choosing students occurs where I live; but can it be so different? Applications have to be read by someone. I liked the story line too. It presents inner conflict in an intelligent and subtle way. Where it didn’t go well for me was the length of the story. I think it should have been shorter and included a bit less self-reflection by the main character. And I do really mean just a bit less since I like to know how a character comes to decisions and what makes them tick. But I think in Admission that self-reflection became circular and the same issues were re-visited a bit too much. Those bits were repetitive and boring. Fortunately there weren’t too many.
Despite these few disappointing aspects, I enjoyed Admission. Though it was not as good for me as Sabbathday River, but I can definitely see the appeal in a book like this especially for people who have been through an admission process at a an ivy league university.