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The Topeka School (2019)

av Ben Lerner

MedlemmarRecensionerPopularitetGenomsnittligt betygOmnämnanden
5963029,330 (3.63)51
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.… (mer)
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» Se även 51 omnämnanden

engelska (28)  tyska (1)  Alla språk (29)
Visa 1-5 av 29 (nästa | visa alla)
Here is a story of a family of three in Topeka, Kansas, and of the son, Adam, negotiating the trials of young adulthood. Yay, I finished it. I was a bit disappointed that, although it is featured prominently on the cover, there is no tornado in the book. I jest. This was just ... not my thing. I liked the writing, generally, but I just couldn't access the story. The best chapter for me was Jane's first chapter ("The Men"), and nothing else in the book quite recaptured that, which is to say that it felt disjointed and its parts untethered to one another, and it did not at all explain toxic masculinity to me, as advertised. ( )
  sturlington | Apr 8, 2021 |
By now we know that a novel by Ben Lerner will never be simple or go about telling its story in an obvious way. His prose is deeply entrenched in his characters’ states of mind. His observations about human behaviour and motivation are subtle, intricate and often startling. He writes with a degree of personal honesty and moral clarity that is refreshing and beguiling, even when he describes unpleasant, difficult, humiliating or traumatic events. He can be funny and profoundly intellectual at the same time. His approach is never straightforward. The building blocks of his fiction rarely line up in expected ways. His novels demand much of the reader, but the rewards are substantial. Such is The Topeka School, which marks the return of Adam Gordon, widely recognized by critics as Lerner’s fictional alter-ego, whom we first met in Leaving the Atocha Station. The novel is set in Topeka, Kansas during a fluid time period that encompasses Adam’s early formative years and extends briefly into his young adulthood. A high-school senior (class of 1997), Adam is also a champion debater who is prepping for a national competition that he is expected to win, and he feels the weight of those expectations. Adam’s mother, Jane, is a bestselling feminist author whose liberal views, particularly her opinion that toxic masculinity is to blame for much of what is wrong with American society, have been met with outrage in less progressive circles. Jonathan, Adam’s father, is a psychologist whose special talent is getting troubled young men to recognize and admit to their fears. The Gordon family is well off, privileged, and aware of their privilege. But Jane and Jonathan’s marriage is strained, and Adam endures migraines resulting from a concussion suffered when he was much younger. The novel is narrated by Adam, Jane and Jonathan in discrete sections in which each describes private, family and professional dynamics from an intimate personal perspective. Lerner’s narrative does not play by conventional rules. There are numerous abrupt shifts in time, space and perspective. The text is peppered with meta-fictional authorial interjections—the novel even refers to itself as a novel—and lengthy expository passages on topics like debate strategy and psychological theory. A recurring and crucial presence in the story is Darren Eberheart—a contemporary of Adam and a patient of Jonathan: an emotionally troubled and socially awkward young man who is bullied and mocked by his peers: a butt of jokes treated with cruel disdain by the teenagers whose fellowship and esteem he craves but will never obtain. The story of Adam’s youth pivots on an act of violence perpetrated by Darren on the eve of high school graduation, when, at a party, Darren is driven to extreme behaviour by frustration and rage. The Topeka School is a complex, bracingly alive, highly self-conscious, sometimes bewildering, occasionally exasperating novel that makes no apologies for its eccentricities. It is wise and elegant, difficult, sometimes preachy, and thoroughly engrossing. It is also smart and observant: a novel that has much to say about the turbulent era in which it was written. ( )
  icolford | Apr 1, 2021 |
Part of the first chapter was excerpted as a short story in The New Yorker; they have a method of recontextualizing parts of a novel into a short story that ends up being something very different. I liked the short story but the actual chapter had a completely different feeling, and of course the novel was also utterly different than the story. The power of editing, I guess?

I liked this book, but the story never really fully resolves for me, and the last chapter which takes place in current times, looking back on the times depicted in the main part of the book left me feeling both satisfied given the power of the reflection, or just the emotional impact of seeing a character further down the road from the last time you left them but also dissatisfied since the narrative just kind of ends and then is given this epilogue. Of course, that is life, things just happen, they don't get storified just because we want them to be stories. ( )
  steveportigal | Dec 31, 2020 |
(58) Really interesting, incredibly well-written novel about a community of psychotherapists in the 1990's in Topeka, Kansas. Really about one family, in particular the son of two therapists, Adam Gordon. We get to know Adam through his parents reflections when he is a child as well as his own. The book is loosely framed as something that Adam himself is writing as an adult. Interspersed are chapters written in italics from a character named Darren - an intellectually disabled boy that unwittingly becomes part of a tragic drama that seems to be a central plot element holding the narrative together. Many of the reviewers blurbs on the pages that lead into the book compare the author to Faulkner, and the comparison is apt. Introspection, meandering construction, evocative if not entirely understandable.

There were points in this novel where I absolutely was floored by the turns of phrase and taught edgy intelligent observations. To paraphrase my favorite insight when discussing the downsides of "therapy" - 'giving language to feelings does not mean you will transcend them; instead the opposite is true - you just feed them.' Spot on and oh so snarky - I need to find some way to sneak it into a conversation with some of my bleeding-heart colleagues.

I think though either I am not astute enough to grasp the point of the narrative arc or there is really not great plot resolution in this novel which accounts for the 1 star off. Unfortunately there seems to be no beginning, no middle, no end. I am sure this is purposeful and while it does not detract from the stunning prose - it leaves one with an unsettling feeling of pointlessness at the conclusion. The novel does not feel finished, as fewer and fewer pages were left to be turned - I started to feel disappointed.

Really beautiful, incredible intelligent writing. The high school debate championship underscored my lasting impression of this novel -- precise and accurate language, rhetoric, knowledge and speech as a form of ungovernable power. ( )
  jhowell | Nov 25, 2020 |
I'm torn on how I think about this book, one I appreciate for its surplus of ideas and which had me hanging on by my intellectual fingertips, trying to keep up with those ideas (and watching many whiz past me at warp speed). Is it idiotic to read a book that makes me feel like an idiot (or slow-witted)? I thought about that a lot as I followed the character's smarty-pants debate career and came to the conclusion that the deft use of language and the ideas I did wrangle were enough to say that, as a whole, I enjoyed the book. If I was more clever, I would give it more stars. ( )
  Katester123 | Sep 17, 2020 |
Visa 1-5 av 29 (nästa | visa alla)
... the center doesn’t quite hold... Deflating what would conventionally be a point of convergence is all too fitting for The Topeka School’s historical scope, however. It should be a comfort that no one’s life is completely determined by any one moment, if for no other reason than because nothing is actually a climax in the scope of history.
 
... brilliant ... 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 ... '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.
tillagd av Lemeritus | ändraBookPage, Michael Magras (Oct 1, 2019)
 
The messy relationship between masculinity and language drives this seeking, eloquent story by poet-novelist Lerner ... 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.
tillagd av Lemeritus | ändraBooklist, Brendan Driscoll (Sep 1, 2019)
 
The Topeka School weaves a masterful narrative of the impact that mental illness, misogyny, homophobia, politics, and religion have on children who want to be men ... though The Topeka School is heavily steeped in mid-90’s American liberalism and home phone lines, Lerner plots history with a contemporary eye to reconcile where we were then with where we stand now. It’s rare to find a book that is simultaneously searing in its social critique and so lush in its prose that it verges on poetry.
 
...[an] essayistic and engrossing novel ... The book sensitively gathers up the evidence of abuse, violation, and cruelty in Adam’s life.Though the conflicts are often modest...Lerner convincingly argues they're worth intense scrutiny ... Few writers are so deeply engaged as Lerner in how our interior selves are shaped by memory and consequence ...increasingly powerful and heartbreaking ... Autofiction at its smartest and most effective: self-interested, self-interrogating, but never self-involved.
tillagd av Lemeritus | ändraKirkus Reviews (May 12, 2019)
 
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Even before the twenty-four-hour news cycle, Twitter storms, algorithmic trading, spreadsheets, the DDoS attack, Americans were getting “spread” in their daily lives; meanwhile, their politicians went on speaking slowly, slowly about values utterly disconnected from their policies.
...they are told constantly, the culture tells them, although “culture” is hardly the word, Klaus said, patting his forehead with a handkerchief cut from the same linen as his suit, that they are individuals, rugged even, but in fact they are emptied out, isolate, mass men without a mass, although they’re not men, obviously, but boys, perpetual boys, Peter Pans, man-children, since America is adolescence without end, boys without religion on the one hand or a charismatic leader on the other; they don’t even have a father—President Carter!—to kill or a father to tell them to kill the Jew; they have no Jew; they are libidinally driven to mass surrender without anything to surrender to; they don’t even believe in money or in science, or those beliefs are insufficient; their country has fought and lost its last real war; in a word, they are overfed; in a word, they are starving.
The man-child represented a farcical form of freedom, magical thinking against the increasingly administered life of the young adult. A teller of fantastic stories. Almost every object in the man-child’s world reflected this suspension between realms: his alcohol that was also soda, his weapons that were toys, how he might trade you two paper dollars for one of silver, valuing not credit so much as shine. He had trouble managing his height or facial hair and when he injured actual children while demonstrating a wrestling move (clothesline, facehammer, DDT), it was a case of his “not knowing his own strength.” He must, to fit the type, be not only male, but also white and able-bodied: the perverted form of the empire’s privileged subject.
Desert camo does not in Kansas disappear into the foliage but indicates a semiconscious wish to blend in with the soldiery of an empire whose enemies are so vague they’re everywhere.
The desire to know more and the desire to know less fought each other to a standstill within Adam, making it hard to move.
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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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