The Topeka school

Ben Lerner, 1979-

Book - 2019

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. 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 ps...ychiatric 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.

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Subjects
Genres
Domestic fiction
Published
New York : Farrar, Straus and Giroux 2019.
Edition
First edition
Language
English
Physical Description
282 pages ; 24 cm
ISBN
9780374277789
0374277788
Main Author
Ben Lerner, 1979- (author)
Review by Booklist Reviews

*Starred Review* The messy relationship between masculinity and language drives this seeking, eloquent story by poet-novelist Lerner (10:04, 2014; Leaving Atocha Station, 2011). Adam Gordon (maybe the same Adam Gordon as in Leaving Atocha Station, maybe not) is a debate-team prodigy. The son of talk-therapy professionals, Adam loves poetry and believes in the power of words. At parties, after a few drinks, freestyle rap keeps him out of fights, unlike his damaged classmate Darren, whose violent impulses are neither sublimated into nor constrained by mere words. Seeking early stirrings of today's sociopolitical tensions in 1990s Kansas, Lerner interrogates Adam's personal origins, dependency upon language, and the complicity tacit in his adolescent oblivion. Chapters narrated by Adam's psychologist parents reveal other masculine transgressions and suggest that Adam's issues are not his alone. The ekphrastic style and autofictional tendencies echo Lerner's earlier works, and his focus on language games and their discontents fits nicely within the 1990s setting. But the fear at the core of this tale—that language, no matter how thoroughly mastered or artfully presented, simply isn't enough—feels new and urgent. Copyright 2019 Booklist Reviews.

Review by Library Journal Reviews

It's 1997, and MacArthur Fellow Lerner takes us to the Foundation, a world-renowned psychiatric clinic in Topeka, KS, where high school senior Adam Gordon's parents work. Adam is a debater with national standing and one of the in crowd (though it takes work), and he's among those trying to improve the lot of outsider Darren Eberheart. But he doesn't know that Darren is one of his father's patients or anticipate the trouble that will follow. Copyright 2019 Library Journal.

Review by Library Journal Reviews

Straddling a fine line between fiction and memoir, this book reintroduces Adam Gordon, the narrator of Lerner's acclaimed debut novel, Leaving the Atocha Station. Adam's youth in Topeka, KS, is unveiled in alternating chapters told by his parents, Jonathan and Jane, practicing psychologists who reveal more about their own emotional lives than their son's. We do learn that Adam is a top-notch debater who excels at the art of employing words to obfuscate more often than to explicate, perhaps a perfect metaphor for a novel set on the campus of The Foundation, an institution dedicated to the efficacy of talk therapy. And these characters do talk, seeking explanations for traumas large and small. Parental abuse, infidelity, rampant sexism, and the complexity of aging and memory are all subject to Lerner's scrutiny. Threaded throughout the Gordon family's story is the ominous tale of Adam's schoolmate and Jonathan's patient, Darren Eberheart, whose precarious hold on reality might by shattered by the bullying of his peers. VERDICT Readers seeking the wry humor for which MacArthur fellow Lerner is noted will find it in short supply here. This exploration of the angst-filled road to manhood is recommended for fans of Jonathan Franzen. [See Prepub Alert, 3/25/19.]—Sally Bissell, formerly with Lee Cty. Lib. Syst., Fort Myers, FL Copyright 2019 Library Journal.

Review by Publishers Weekly Reviews

Lerner made a huge impact on contemporary fiction with his two previous drawn-from-life novels, Leaving the Atocha Station and 10:04. With his latest, he leaves behind his typically erudite first-person protagonists in favor of a Kansas boyhood in the 1990s. For the time being, high school senior Adam Gordon can only dream of "a vaguely imagined East Coast city where his experiences in Topeka could be recounted only with great irony." But he is a brilliant member of the debate club and the son of two psychotherapists, Jonathan and Jane, who are tied to the Foundation, an experimental treatment facility where Adam is himself a patient of the eccentric (and possibly psychic) Dr. Kenneth Erwood. Readers delve deeper in the Foundation in evocative chapters narrated by Adam's parents, who tell the story of their courtship, Jonathan's extramarital affair with Jane's best friend Sima, and adventures in academia. Also haunting the novel is the figure of Darren, a teenage outsider whose inclusion in Adam's clique ends in a disastrous act of violence. Lerner's greatest strength lies in interstitial period details in the zeitgeist: Bob Dole, Reverend Fred Phelps, and Tupac Shakur. Loosely plotted but riveting, this novel expertly locates the thread of the anxious present in the memory-stippled past. (Oct.) Copyright 2019 Publishers Weekly.

Review by Publisher Summary 1

"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 collapseof public speech, the trolls and tyrants of the New Right, and the ongoing crisis of identity among white men"--

Review by Publisher Summary 2

A popular high-school senior in 1997 Kansas elevates a loner classmate into the social scene with unexpected consequences, while his famous parents reckon with an abusive childhood and marital transgressions against a backdrop of New Right toxic masculinity.

Review by Publisher Summary 3

FINALIST FOR THE PULITZER PRIZE WINNER OF THE LOS ANGELES TIMES BOOK PRIZEONE OF THE NEW YORK TIMES TOP TEN BOOKS OF THE YEARA TIME, GQ, Vulture, and WASHINGTON POST TOP 10 BOOK of the YEARONE OF BARACK OBAMA'S FAVORITE BOOKS OF THE YEAR Finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award Shortlisted for the Rathbones Folio PrizeWinner of the Hefner Heitz Kansas Book Award ALSO NAMED ONE OF THE BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR BY: Esquire, NPR, Vogue, Amazon, Kirkus, The Times (UK), Buzzfeed, Vanity Fair, The Telegraph (UK), Financial Times (UK), Lit Hub, The Times Literary Supplement (UK), The New York Post, Daily Mail (UK), The Atlantic, Publishers Weekly, The Guardian (UK), Electric Literature, SPY.com, and the New York Public Library 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 RightAdam 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.

Review by Publisher Summary 4

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.