Book Talk: The Topeka School: A Novel by Ben Lerner
“Named one of the most anticipated fall books by:The New York Times Book Review, Entertainment Weekly, Esquire, Vogue, Vulture, The Observer, Kirkus, Lit Hub, The Millions, The Week, Oprah Magazine, The Paris Review Daily, Nylon, Pacific Standard, Publishers Weekly, Slate, The Philadelphia Inquirer, USA Today, the New York Post, and The Guardian
From the award-winning author of 10:04 and Leaving the Atocha Station, a tender and expansive family drama set in the American Midwest at the turn of the century: a tale of adolescence, transgression, and the conditions that have given rise to the trolls and tyrants of the New Right.
This is the story
Adam Gordon is a senior at Topeka High School, class of ’97. His mother, Jane, is a famous feminist author; his father, Jonathan, is an expert at getting “lost boys” to open up. They both work at a psychiatric clinic that has attracted staff and patients from around the world. Adam is a renowned debater, expected to win a national championship before he heads to college. He is one of the cool kids, ready to fight or, better, freestyle about fighting if it keeps his peers from thinking of him as weak. Adam is also one of the seniors who bring the loner Darren Eberheart―who is, unbeknownst to Adam, his father’s patient―into the social scene, to disastrous effect.
Deftly shifting perspectives and time periods, The Topeka School is the story of a family, its struggles and its strengths: Jane’s reckoning with the legacy of an abusive father, Jonathan’s marital transgressions, the challenge of raising a good son in a culture of toxic masculinity. It is also a riveting prehistory of the present: the collapse of public speech, the trolls and tyrants of the New Right, and the ongoing crisis of identity among white men.
Reviews and What Readers Say
“ [The Topeka School] is thoroughly, intimidatingly brilliant and absolutely contemporary . . . It's funny, and at times, painfully acute . . . [Lerner] is a supremely gifted prose stylist, at once theoretical and conversational; he never bores or blathers, and is always limpid. Rather than inviting the reader to look at him or his life, he invites the reader to look through him.”
―Christine Smallwood, Harper's
“ With acute social insight into the crisis of toxic masculinity and deep psychological penetration into one Midwestern family, [The Topeka School] is the rare novel of ideas that never skimps on depth of feeling."
—Adrienne Westenfeld, Esquire
“ Ben Lerner’s The Topeka School is the best novel of the Donald Trump era thus far . . . Maybe the most remarkable thing about The Topeka School is the way it models this possibility by gathering together the apparently distant and unrelated―psychotherapy, high school debate, Kansan politics, concussions, the drama of a marriage―into a story that feels sincere and generous."
―Ryan Lackey, Slant“Autofiction master Lerner
“ How do two psychologist parents figure out how to raise a son in a culture of toxic masculinity while they are struggling with their own issue and their past? How does the son in Topeka Kansas "come of age" when caught between his parents lefty, intellectual household and a culture of toxic masculinity outside it? And how does high school debate (Lerner's description of the debate scene alone is worth the price of admission) provide us with a riveting look into the crises of identity of white men? This is a remarkable novel."
―J. Worley, Amazon Reader's Review, Verified Purchase
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Ben Lerner is the author of three books of poetry (The Lichtenberg Figures, Angle of Yaw, and Mean Free Path), three novels (Leaving the Atocha Station, 10:04, and The Topeka School) and a work of criticism (The Hatred of Poetry). His collaborations with artists include Blossom (with Thomas Demand), The Polish Rider (with Anna Ostoya), and The Snows of Venice (with Alexander Kluge). Lerner has been a Fulbright Scholar, a finalist for the National Book Award, a Howard Foundation Fellow, a Guggenheim Fellow, and he is currently a MacArthur Fellow. In 2011 he won the "Preis der Stadt Münster für internationale Poesie", making him the first American to receive this honor. Lerner teaches at Brooklyn College, where he was named a Distinguished Professor of English in 2016.