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The Topeka School

3.85  ·  Rating details ·  472 ratings  ·  150 reviews
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 1997. His mother, Jane, is a famous feminist/>
Hardcover, 304 pages
Published October 1st 2019 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux
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Average rating 3.85  · 
Rating details
 ·  472 ratings  ·  150 reviews

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Adam Dalva
Jul 30, 2019 rated it it was amazing
A fascinating departure for Lerner, but also a homecoming, as this novel's increasingly fractured language embraces poetics in a way LEAVING THE ATOCHA STATION and 10:04 skirted. There is a sedate pace here that reminds me of Saul Bellow or John Cheever, with the massive ambition of re-capturing America of the 90's as a way to explain America now. Adam, the protagonist of L.T.A.S., returns, predominantly in high school, with his parents' monologues and Faulkner-lite vignettes from the perspectiv ...more
May 20, 2019 rated it liked it
Shelves: usa, 2019-read
This book is like a skeleton clock: There are a lot of different elements, some of them only added or painted for show, coming together to form one mechanical piece – and while the first look suggests a complicated interplay of intricate parts, it’s ultimately just wheels and springs doing their thing, and the oscillation of the balance wheel remains minimal. Ben Lerner bombards his readers with topics and jumping timelines, but ultimately, the density of the writing does not cover up the fact t ...more
Ron Charles
Oct 08, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Ben Lerner’s new book, “The Topeka School,” is an extraordinarily brilliant novel that’s also accessible to anyone yearning for illumination in our disputatious era. If you’ve been nervously hopping along the shore of Lerner’s work, now’s the time to dive in. As in his previous novels, this story is semi-autobiographical and the structure is complex, but “The Topeka School” is no Escher sketch of literary theory. Its complexity is beautifully subsumed in a compelling plot about two psychotherapi ...more
Chelsea Humphrey
This is one of those books where the story is fabulous, but the execution and writing style aren't my cup of tea. I appreciate what the author is doing here, but the text is packed solid to the point that there is very little dialogue, and this paired with continuous thoughts that felt like mental run-on sentences, was a struggle. Again, I may not be high brow enough or as much of a literary fiction connoisseur as the reader who this novel is intended for, so I would definitely recommend with ca ...more
Occasionally I read a book at a funny time in my life – when there's a lot going on and I don't have as much mental RAM available as usual – and I don't feel equipped to review it properly. That's definitely the case with The Topeka School, a wonderfully dense and intelligent novel exploring the youth of Adam Gordon and a group of characters surrounding him. (Adam is also the protagonist of Lerner's Leaving the Atocha Station and, in turn, also a stand-in for the author.) I'm not sure that I liked this book as m ...more
May 30, 2019 rated it it was amazing

The Topeka school by Ben Lerner is a modern day masterpiece, it’s an engaging important read. This book was not easy, and a lot of people will hate it ( fair warning) however, Lerner blends language in an artistic and intellectual way that challenged me as a reader and a thinker. This novel paints a portrait of the end of the twentieth century as seen from our disastrous present. It’s a timeless tale of everything that is wrong with this country today told in the past and how we seem to have got
Kasa Cotugno
When so many plot points converge with the reality of the author's life, it is hard to differentiate where fiction and confession converge and separate. Like protagonist Adam, Ben Lerner grows up in Topeka Kansas with his parents who are both psychologists (his mother a published author with a fine reputation in women's issues), graduates in 1997, currently lives in Brooklyn, and is a professor of literature as well as a poet. But there is a cracking good story here, told from the viewpoints of ...more
Jul 19, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2019, netgalley
The main protagonist of Lerner’s first book was a young poet named Adam Gordon. Here, in The Topeka School, the centre of the story is also Adam Gordon only this time we straddle the period of Leaving the Atocha Station with views from the late-twentieth century and from now (2019). The Topeka School is, partly, a family history examining the early years of the Gordon family - Jane, a psychologist and then famous feminist author, Jonathan, also a psychologist with a knack for treating wayward bo ...more
Jul 08, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Being from Topeka, just slightly older than Ben Lerner, and going to Topeka West instead of Topeka High, this book feels like history and mythology blended together. I only know Ben and his family by reputation and shared acquaintances. How much of this narrative is his thinly veiled family? How much is fabricated? I don't know and it doesn't much matter. This book, for me, weirdly distills the same world I inhabited in the 1990s, yet saw from a completely different perspective. I knew no one at ...more
Brendan Monroe
Ever since watching "The Wizard of Oz" as a child, I've wanted to be a storm chaser. Not just a storm chaser, per se, but a tornado chaser, like those guys (and Helen Hunt) in "Twister", another movie that made storm chasing look oh so cool. I faced a few setbacks along the way, like living in a state that gets only the very occasional — and never very powerful — tornado, and regardless of how hard I pushed my parents to relocate the family to Kansas or somewhere else inside "Tornado Alley", I w ...more
Jul 25, 2019 rated it liked it
You can say that Ben Lerner's subtlety is what makes this book so uniquely enjoyable yet always slightly out of reach. Or you can say it's the same subtlety that makes the book less than satisfying. I personally really enjoyed it. It is like he is showing you all the dots and it is up to you to connect them into something that resembles a portrait of the world we suddenly find in front of us.
Alison Hardtmann
Aug 11, 2019 rated it liked it
When Jane and Jonathan each go to work at the Topeka School, a innovative psychiatric clinic, they never mean to make it permanent, but after finding each other and a nice Victorian they could never have afforded to buy in New York, they have a son, Adam, and settle in. The book moves back and forth between these three characters, and a fourth; a patient at the clinic. The novel is about the three members of the Gordon family, but it's also about the overly close relationships that formed betwee ...more
Jul 10, 2019 rated it liked it
Shelves: giveaways
Set in Topeka, Kansas this story follows the lives of the Gordon family. Jonathan and Jane Gordon are psychologists on staff at the world-renowned The Foundation, a psychiatric clinic that attracts a varied and talented staff as well as patients. The Gordons include son Adam who is a popular senior at Topeka High School, class of 1997, a national debater and orator, and a good son. Jonathan is well-known for his work with "lost boys" while Jane, in addition to her work at The Foundation, is a fe ...more
Apr 21, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Ben Lerner is a favorite writer of mine, both his novels (Leaving the Atocha Station and 10:04) and poetry (so far, all I've read is Angle of Yaw but I greatly admired and enjoyed it). I was excited to read his new novel and was not disappointed.

The Topeka School is different than Lerner's other writing. It is a more traditional narrative than his other no
Sep 03, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2019
This is a riveting, if at times challenging, novel about a family in Topeka, Kansas, in the last quarter of twentieth century. The parents work for a renowned psychology training institute/mental health hospital they call The Foundation and they have a smart and often angry son named Adam. The novel is divided into chapters between Adam, Jane (his mother), and Jonathan (the father), where the main story unspools. There is also an account at the ends of these chapters of a fourth, an outcast name ...more
Paolo Latini
Jun 13, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: americans, 2019

Ideal third installment of a trilogy with Leaving the Atocha Station and 10: 04 . In both cases there’s at stake a curious and intelligent hybrid between facts and fictions, autobiographical elements and in the case of 10:04 also of metanarrative elements. On The Topeka School we find the same Adam Gordon, but here he is a teenager in the 90s in Topeka, Kansas, where he is a high school student, Ivy League-bound (Columbia, like Ben Lerner), is part of the debating team (like Ben Lerner)
Lolly K Dandeneau
Jun 04, 2019 rated it liked it
via my blog:
'They felt at once profoundly numb and profoundly ecstatic to be young and inflicting optional damage on each other; the heat was its own justification, but so was the cold- there was a second-order thrill in knowing you could kick someone in the chest without emotion.'

With two parents who are highly successful psychologists working for “The Foundation”, surely one would imagine their son Adam would have a solid structure to build his life upon. It’s not so, the paren
Chris Haak
Sep 25, 2019 rated it liked it
Interesting but too much of everything. I feel Lerner wanted to include too much stuff in this book: toxic masculinity, feminism, psychiatry, bullying, abuse, identity, debating etc etc. It would have been a better book if he had focussed on less and was less elaborate.
Thank you Macmillan and Edelweiss for the ARC.
Jun 07, 2019 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Very disapointed in this book. Very hard to read. At times, you couldn't tell which character they were talking about.

Thanks to author, publisher and Netgalley for the chance to read this book. While I got the book for free, it had no bearing on the rating I gave it.
McKenzie Watson
Jul 31, 2019 rated it it was amazing
I cried at the end.
In his third novel, Ben Lerner has crafted a psychologically dense and intimate narrative that looks at the social worlds of Jane, Jonathan, and Adam Gordon, a nuclear family in Topeka, Kansas, in the 1990s. The plot flows over undercurrents of abuse, fidelity, family histories, appropriation, privilege, and violence, all shadowed by the presence of Freud.

Ben Lerner writes with so much subtlety and at the same time, so much force. This is a book – a story, wi
James Beggarly
Jun 09, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Brilliant book. A few crucial episodes from a young man’s life are shown not only through his eyes, but also through both his parent’s. Such a smart writer who seemingly is peeling back layer upon layer to show how he became the man he is today.
Jun 02, 2019 rated it really liked it
I read this book a month or so ago, and I’ve been sitting on making a review while I’ve digested this book. I am a big fan of Ben Lerner. I liked 10:04, loved Leaving the Atocha Station, and adore his poetry. Needless to say, this has been one of my most anticipated reads of 2019. It was a bit of a letdown.

Lerner has created a new book in the vein of child genius literature, with inevitable comparison to Infinite Jest, Jakob van Gunten, and The Last Samurai (DeWitt’s Version, not the
May 26, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: fiction
A really insightful, timely work about, just to name a few things: white masculinity, "the end of history," poetry, psychiatry, and how we got to our current American "post-truth" milieu. This book does a great job of describing one type of American life, and how it's led us here. One way it does this particularly strongly is through fractured language: timelines, memories, and lives overlap, from the 1960s until the present. If I knew more about "Leaving the Atocha Station," I could speak more ...more
Jul 29, 2019 rated it liked it
Lerner's first two works, about featuring male protagonists who drink too much and think too much, were right up my alley. They were unlike anything I'd ever read, yet exactly like everything I hoped to read - funny, poignant, sarcastic, nihilistic, and maybe hopeful? As long as the hope is that by screwing up continuously we can learn not to screw things up too badly. They were thinly disguised semi-autobiographical works, and, as fans of artists often unfairly demand, I only wanted more.
Maryanne Lyons
Aug 26, 2019 rated it it was ok
Shelves: netgalley, fiction
I had not read any of Ben Lerner’s previous works, but I had grown up in Kansas City and had spent much time at my grandparents’ farm near Topeka. I had also read quite a few positive early reviews of this novel, which seems to be getting a lot of great buzz. So, I really, really wanted to like this book, and I began reading with high hopes. Unfortunately, I was very disappointed.

I found this to be an unexciting narrative about Adam, a very talented member of his high school debate t
Aug 10, 2019 added it
Shelves: fellow-jews
I won this in one of those giveaways on here so I'll feel kind of guilty if I don't write an actual review of it.

- The plot synopsis given for this book is super misleading, as maybe under twenty pages even mention Darren, who primarily exists in short interlude chapters between the longer ones, which, though alluded to elsewhere, don't have a ton of bearing on the rest of the book, beyond thematic links/social commentary.

- I might be wrong, but I get the feeling most rev
Callum Macdonald
Sep 23, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Reading Ben Lerner is an amazing experience, a glimpse into the endless possibilities that language and form allow for in modern writing. Lerner’s writing is unparalleled in its intellectual vigour and polished playfulness; this is a flawless demonstration of poetry as prose and prose as poetry. Like his previous novels, Lerner’s own life bleeds into his fiction as we bear witness to an experimental family saga that jumps between time and narrator to cross-examine modern culture. Lerner contempl ...more
Sep 30, 2019 rated it it was ok
Shelves: giveaways
-Thanks to Goodreads Giveaways and Farrar, Straus and Giroux for providing me with an ARC of "The Topeka School", by Ben Lerner, on sale tomorrow, 10/1/2019.-

Honestly, this is not a bad novel, as it is indeed well written and it offers a good example of word building and exquisite use of language. However, I didn't enjoy it, as it feels too dense and vague to me, to the point you some times have to double check who is 'talking' at the moment.

Some characters seem to be merely circums
Oct 03, 2019 rated it liked it
Shelves: literary-fiction
The book begins with Adam Gordon, a high school debater par excellence from Topeka Kansas whose voice alternates with his parents, both therapists, and his friend, Darren who is the person non grata at the high school. The story is packed with run on sentences, stream of consciousness and piercing examinations of cutthroat masculinity and matters of state. I found the material itself interesting but I just could not appreciate the dense web of material. Others will find this the perfect cup of t ...more
Nicole Doliner
Oct 16, 2019 rated it it was ok
Shelves: own-tbr
DNF at page 67. Just couldn't get interested in this book, despite the great-sounding description. It felt like reading someone's psychological dissertation but there were also characters involved. And I didn't like any of the characters.
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Ben 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, making Lerner the first American ...more
“How many of his small gestures and postures in the present were embodied echoes of the past, repetitions just beneath the threshold of his consciousness? What would happen to the past if you brought those involuntary muscle memories under your control and edited them, edited them out?” 0 likes
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