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The Topeka School
by Ben Lerner




Overview -

FINALIST FOR THE PULITZER PRIZE

WINNER OF THE LOS ANGELES TIMES BOOK PRIZE

ONE OF THE
NEW YORK TIMES TOP TEN BOOKS OF THE YEAR

A TIME, GQ, Vulture, and WASHINGTON POST TOP 10 BOOK of the YEAR
ONE OF BARACK OBAMA'S FAVORITE BOOKS OF THE YEAR

Finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award
Shortlisted for the Rathbones Folio Prize
Winner 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 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 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.

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Overview

FINALIST FOR THE PULITZER PRIZE

WINNER OF THE LOS ANGELES TIMES BOOK PRIZE

ONE OF THE
NEW YORK TIMES TOP TEN BOOKS OF THE YEAR

A TIME, GQ, Vulture, and WASHINGTON POST TOP 10 BOOK of the YEAR
ONE OF BARACK OBAMA'S FAVORITE BOOKS OF THE YEAR

Finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award
Shortlisted for the Rathbones Folio Prize
Winner 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 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 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.


 

Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780374277789
  • ISBN-10: 0374277788
  • Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
  • Publish Date: October 2019
  • Page Count: 304
  • Dimensions: 9.3 x 6.3 x 1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.14 pounds


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BookPage Reviews

The Topeka School

Late in The Topeka School, Ben Lerner’s brilliant new novel, a character asks, “How do you rid yourself of a voice, keep it from becoming part of yours?” Voice is one of the central themes of this ingenious work that also serves as a commentary on the current political climate.

One of the book’s three narrators is Adam Gordon, the protagonist of Lerner’s debut novel, Leaving the Atocha Station. When Adam was 8, he suffered a concussion that left him with migraines so severe that his speech became slurred. Now, in the late 1990s, Adam is a Kansas high school senior and a fierce debater who has taken part in national tournaments. Adam’s story makes clear that communication as well as voice—how people communicate or don’t, from debaters to therapists to anti-gay Reverend Fred Phelps and his Westboro Baptist Church—are as integral to the story as Adam and his parents, Jonathan and Jane Gordon, psychologists at an institute called the Foundation.

Jane is the author of a bestselling book that some women have told her saved their marriage. Because of its success, Jane has received abusive phone calls from men, especially after her “Oprah” appearance, as well as harassment from Phelps and his crowd. Jonathan, meanwhile, struggles with his wife’s success and with his own fidelity. He left his first wife after he met Jane, and now with Jane’s career on the rise, he begins to have feelings for Sima, another Foundation psychologist, who is also Jane’s best friend.

In the midst of these stories is that of Darren Eberheart, Adam’s classmate, who has committed a violent act that will have ramifications for the people around him.

The importance of speech in the novel lets Lerner comment on the state of politics, from glancing references to some people’s inability to decode irrational arguments to more direct critiques, as when he writes of a legendary debater at Adam’s school whose right-wing Kansas governorship would become “an important model for the Trump administration.”

“How do you keep other voices from becoming yours?” is a key question of our time, or, for that matter, any era. The Topeka School provides no clear answers, but it memorably demonstrates how hard it can be to recognize insidious utterances for what they are. 

 

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