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Leaving the Atocha Station

3.78 of 5 stars 3.78  ·  rating details  ·  4,260 ratings  ·  586 reviews
Adam Gordon is a brilliant, if highly unreliable, young American poet on a prestigious fellowship in Madrid, struggling to establish his sense of self and his relationship to art. What is actual when our experiences are mediated by language, technology, medication, and the arts? Is poetry an essential art form, or merely a screen for the reader's projections? Instead of fo ...more
Paperback, 181 pages
Published August 23rd 2011 by Coffee House Press
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Aug 02, 2014 Paul rated it 2 of 5 stars
Shelves: novels
One of those memoirs which with a light dusting of name changing and event rearranging gets to be called a novel. Whether it is one or not is no longer a question which anyone asks. The autobiographical novel is a grand tradition* - this one stars a more than somewhat bi-polar American student (prone to lying outrageously for no reason and having wild spending sprees with his parents’ dough) who is the most cheese-paringly psychologically self-regarding a narrator since Henry Late Period James. ...more

It's been like ten years since I saw or read Trainspotting, but I remember being annoyed with the movie when I first saw it. The book had ended with a nihilistic pessimism that the movie kind of spun into a 'selling-out' of sorts (if cleaning up, screwing over your friends and trying to escape the zombie existence of a junkie can be called selling out). The young, angry and idealized version of myself kind of hated the ending to the movie.

As I made my way through this book, the voice of Ewan Mc
Ivan Goldman
What's curious about this book is the attention and adulation it's received. It's memoir dressed up as a novel that is the author's lengthy reflection on a character that shares many traits with the author. He hails from the same town, attended the same school, etc. This character/author incessantly lies to acquaintances for no apparent reason and then is nauseated. In fact, page after page the guy is literally, not figuratively nauseous or vomiting.

Many critics seemed to think this book was an
Fiction that feels unlike fiction is my favorite sort of fiction. This one explores intellectual and emotional terrain related to sensitive experience of what's real and contrived, propelled by a sustained sense of non-fictional narrative reality accentuated by author/narrator autobiographical overlap. Seemed at its best when essayistically offering insight (not "indulging in interiority") about poetic creation/sensibilities, about reading poetry (Ashbery), and describing attacks on self (panic) ...more
This book has two good things going for it: the narrator is smart (which is not usual), and his voice pulls off the "Humbert Humbert effect" of making you like him despite his being both a poser and a hypocrite.

Adam, the narrator and a stand-in for Lerner, a poet himself, has interesting things to say about poetry as the art of potentiality, as a way to embody the virtual, the "subjunctive": what could be but is not and will not. This paradox ("embodying the virtual") leads him to conclude that
I bought this book with high hopes -- from the description I thought it might have some of the qualities of Arthur Phillips's PRAGUE, but with a Madrid setting (resonant for me since I'm currently writing about that city, albeit in a very different era). I was, I hate to say, disappointed.

Perhaps I was missing a layer of irony, but I almost immediately lost patience with and sympathy for the narrator, Adam Gordon – a pampered pseudo-poet who is wasting a prestigious fellowship smoking dope and
That this book is impressively boring is probably the most positive thing I have to say about it. I found it vapid and remarkably without point. It is the story of an uninteresting, probably intended to be considered tortured, young American poet who pretended his way into a fellowship in Spain by stating his intention to write a poem about a subject about which he knows nothing. He has no intention of writing said poem. That this is the character is not, of course, the true problem with the boo ...more
Jeff Jackson
Well wrought meditations on aesthetics and the creative process wrapped inside a character driven narrative. Questions the existence of a "profound experience of art" while trying to both engage with and offer one. Recommended to fans of Geoff Dyer.
No. No. No. Beautiful writing at the sentence level. Often funny. Too much meditation about the nature and meaning of art. I just hate those kinds of books. I like stories.
I came to Leaving the Atocha Station via a recommendation on The Millions blog from Paul Murray, author of two recent favorites, Skippy Dies and An Evening of Long Goodbyes. Since his books were so great it only stands to reason that his recommendation must be tinged with equal brilliance, right?

Since Murray started this for me, here's his recommendation:

My two favourite novels this year, though, were debuts. Leaving the Atocha Station is the story of a gifted but disillusioned young poet on a f
Sort of a head-splitting book. Immediately engaging, for sure - crisp sentence rhythms, lots of vicious humor - but the narrator's intense engagement with his own detachment ends up setting the whole narrative in an odd middle distance. Should I care about the struggles of a heavily medicated poet trying to have a deep experience of art when he doesn't seem that engaged with depth in the first place? I guess I could say the book's outrageous sense of self-obsession is saved by its brutal honesty ...more
Jordi Via
No quiero ser cruel y votar con una estrella, en parte porque gracias a esta novela he descubierto a Ashbery.
Pero he de admitir que me ha aburrido, que no he disfrutado, y que encontrar un plagio evidente de Almódovar casi al principio de la novela, hizo que no la leyera con mucho ánimo.
Quizá a la "beautiful people" le guste, yo no formo parte ni quisiera.
Nov 20, 2011 Aaron rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: The Fraudulent
Recommended to Aaron by: Evan Hansen
There are obvious winners in a meritocratic system - there are the chosen ones blessed with enough genetic and generational advantages to be comfortably pre-positioned over all competitors. There are real competitors who manage to figure out the Great American Alchemy of converting sweat to gold. And then there are those rudderless bastards who have no real sense of what happened, who faked compliance with parental and then social definitions of success without ever fully investing and were rewa ...more
Adam Gordon is a poet who seems to hate poetry. He’s gotten himself a pretty sweet fellowship, a year-long stay in Spain with a project, that, when explained, rings sort of false. He’s got a flexible relationship with truth and suffers no shame for wiping spit under his eyes and pretending his mother has died to gain sympathy. There is no crisis of conscience when he takes a tragic story his friend tells and makes it his own meaningful tale. He’s also got a steady diet of white pills and spliffs ...more
The best, most engrossing recent novel I've read in a while. Highly recommended.

In graduate school I tested out different terms to describe the kind of fiction I was trying to write, besides "experimental fiction". One was "associative fiction." This meant stories that derived their power not primarily from narrative urgency but from intuitive leaps, correspondences or simply readerly trust in/curiosity about the movements of the authorial mind. Associative poetry, I'd say, is just another way o
Jonathan Ashleigh
I read Leaving the Atocha Stations in a couple of days and am still running the story through my head. It has language strange to the novel setting but welcome and is a book I wish I had written for its sentiments about Americans. It reminded me greatly of The Sorrows of Young Mike, which also contains AIM conversations and is also about an American abroad. Each of the books are unique but they often bring up similar issues and themes. Ben Lerner has outdone himself with his first novel and if y ...more
O he perdido el tacto, o no estoy teniendo demasiada suerte con las novedades editoriales.
En este caso concreto, me quedo con las últimas treinta páginas del libro.
This is not a book to pick up if you are in a mood for a quick read, a suspenseful, plot driven novel - if you aren't in a mood to enjoy Ben Lerner's lovely prose and to sit back and think about what he is writing, then wait to start Leaving the Atocha Station until you are, so you don't miss out on a very good book.
Personally, I tend to be more of a plot driven reader so I do know what I'm talking about here. I started reading this and found my mind was zooming way to fast and there were too m
Ben Jaques
Oh to be 22 and living in Madrid, this bood captures that the live of a self-obsessed young poet on a fellowship in Spain just before and after the bombing in Madrid. The does a really nice job conveying the sense of half understanding a language and showing the protagonists developing fluency in Spanish. Early in the book, conversations are recounted as just smatterings of words or proposed ideas, but by the end the Spanish is almost totally clear. For most of the novel, I couldn't help but hat ...more
Jose Luis
No puedo entender tantos elogios a esta novela, y menos el éxito que ha tenido en USA. Me decidió a comprarla el arranque de la historia y esa figura del narrador en el museo del Prado, etc. Parecía que como lectura en inglés podía ser interesante y asequible, y bueno, al menos sí es asequible. El hechizo no tarda nada en esfumarse, y uno se encuentra siguiendo los pasos de uno de los personajes más estúpidos de la literatura reciente. Desorientado, no entiende absolutamente nada de lo que ocurr ...more
"I formed several possible stories out of her speech, formed them at once, so it was less like I failed to understand than that I understood in chords, understood in a plurality of worlds."

For awhile somehow every book I picked up was about the Holocaust. Then it was 9/11. Now it's poetry.

The narrator, a poet (or is he?), is not speaking about poetry in the above quote; he is talking about his understanding of the Spanish language. An American in Spain on a poetry fellowship, his ruminations on
Jennifer Andrews
I read this because of Maureen Corrigan's recommendation on NPR. I finished it only because it was relatively short and because I had to get it on inter-library loan.

The protagonist is such a cowardly, self-absorbed, ridiculous person that I found very little of this book to be enjoyable. I really don't know why it came so highly recommended. Very, very disappointed with this book.

The last sentence was so terrible that I actually laughed out loud when I read it. It seemed as if the author didn'
Alan Chen
This is the kind of smart, well-written, postmodern book that you read and become uber envious because you wish you were the one that wrote it. The story itself is quite simple: Adam Gordon is in his early 20s, recently graduated from an Ivy League soon and ostensibly on a fellowship in Spain to write poetry but really because he's uncertain what is the next step for him. He is self conscious as only someone in the their early 20s can be. Constantly concerned about how he is being perceived and ...more
A little disappointing. I think I am getting tired of young super smart, over-educated young men who can't "feel"... The novel has nice moments though and the writing is fluid and elegant.
Julie Ehlers
Early in this book, Ben Lerner explains how you're supposed to read this book. On page 19, talking about attempting to read Spanish prose, Lerner's narrator, Adam, reveals:
I came to realize that far more important to me than any plot or conventional sense was the sheer directionality I felt while reading prose, the texture of time as it passed, life's white machine.

Since by page 19 it was already very clear to me that Leaving the Atocha Station would be rather short on plot, I understood that, a
I don’t live in NYC anymore, so I don’t read the Sunday NYT Book Review on Saturday night, nor do I read poetry, for which author Ben Lerner is famous. As a result, I had never heard of him until recently, when "Leaving the Atocha Station" received favorable references among the laudatory reviews for Lerner's newest book, "10:04: A Novel."

I also bought "Leaving the Atocha Station" because the title meant something to me. Our family lived in Spain in 2004: on March 11th, after I dropped our daug
Feb 13, 2014 Alan rated it 4 of 5 stars
Shelves: novels
hugely enjoyable. A young American poet on a scholarship in Madrid feels a fraud and about to be found out. Every morning he gets stoned and goes to the Prado and stands before Van der Weyden's Descent From the Cross, hoping for, but never quite achieving, artistic inspiration. One morning he gets there and someone is in his place, weeping. He feels doubly unworthy. The novel then follows his wanderings as he smokes and drinks and gets invited to parties and communicates with his eyebrows and hi ...more
John Pappas
This book is strangely compelling. While the narrator is a contemptuous, drug-addled, self-effacing and self-pitying poet in Spain on a fellowship, who is deathly afraid of being revealed as a charlatan (and also admitting he is somewhat of a charlatan in both his personal and professional endeavors), he is not entirely unsympathetic as a character, though on virtually every page he fouls something up, stumbling through Madrid trying to figure out the relationship of art to life and the capacity ...more
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Benjamin S. Lerner is an American poet, novelist, and critic. He was awarded the Hayden Carruth prize for his cycle of fifty-two sonnets, The Lichtenberg Figures. In 2004, Library Journal named it one of the year's twelve best books of poetry. The Lichtenberg Figures appeared in a German translation in 2010, for which it received the "Preis der Stadt Münster für internationale Poesie" in 2011, mak ...more
More about Ben Lerner...
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“I tried hard to imagine my poems or any poems as machines that could make things happen, changing the government, or the economy or even their language, the body or its sensorium, but I could not imagine this, could not even imagine imagining it. And yet when I imagined the total victory of those other things over poetry, when I imagined, with a sinking feeling, a world without even the terrible excuses for poems that kept faith with the virtual possibilities of the medium, without the sort of absurd ritual I'd participated in that evening then I intuited an inestimable loss, a loss not of artworks but of art, and therefore infinite, the total triumph of the actual, and I realized that, in such a world, I would swallow a bottle of white pills.” 8 likes
“I was a violent, bipolar, compulsive liar. I was a real American.” 7 likes
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