The backdrop of Atocha Station is the Iraq War, already souring globalism, America in decline. His mother, Jane, is a famous feminist author; his father, Jonathan, is an expert at getting "lost boys" to open up. Can they say that again, but louder? The Topeka School is a sort of prequel to these two novels. If the novel is a chronicle of his coming-of-age in language, the suggestion is that it is also a larger semantic origin story, about faux-populist, frenetic Trumpian rhetoric, and the subset of articulate, angry men who helped cultivate it. And both books are beautifully, exasperatingly, transcendently wordy. Adam was born and raised in Topeka, Kansas. Adam often feels lost and enraged for reasons he can’t quite explain. She prods “the Men” until they’re shouting or, unwilling to shout, forced to hang up. The story takes place in the 1990s in Topeka, Kan., where a high school senior named Adam Gordon is a star on the debate team (as was Lerner). He even won a national championship in his senior year of high school. In his lessons for Adam, we see the beginnings of a national political glossolalia: Looking back on a scene of himself sparring with Evanson, the older Adam—now a writer living in New York—comments that the younger Adam will go on to “attempt this genealogy of his speech, its theaters and extremes,” referring to the book we are reading. They are often better, more profound communicators (with her books, Jane reaches more people than any other character does), but they exist here as men’s linguistic and emotional foils. Adam is one of the novel’s central characters. At every turn, its beautifully realised characters are shaped, even in the privacy of their inner lives, by the pressures of history and culture this is a book not only about how things really feel, but what things really mean. He is part of the hyperintellectual, Freudian world of his parents, where the most successful men think calmly and talk calmly, where emotions require verbal “processing,” and where any adolescent outbursts are followed by “think[ing] along with” his parents about the causes. The first chapter opens at Clinton Lake near Topeka, about a year earlier. A bildungsroman, or coming-of-age novel, it begins in 1990s Topeka, Kansas, following two young men, Darren and Adam, whose different family backgrounds and experiences lead them to have very different attachments, values, and ambivalences toward contemporary America. Race goes largely unexplored, other than that all of these Kansan teenagers like to rap and make gang signs, believing that they’re expressing their alienation in a way that is somehow powerful and dangerous. In The Topeka School, women are neither geniuses of language nor abusers of it in the manner of men. High school student Adam was on a boat with his girlfriend, Amber. The Topeka School by Ben Lerner manages to explore the condition of the whole country with one story about a few characters in a small town. But why are these men so angry? This book reeks of it. The scene signals a return of familiar themes in Lerner’s work—an obsession with language, a particular genus of American male subjectivity—and signals that he is confronting these subjects in a more direct and critical way. Lerner seems interested in reiterating via the details of his own biography the now-evident political reality that these alienated men are powerful and dangerous precisely when they feel they are not. A teenager named Darren was in police custody after assaulting someone with a billiard ball. There’s a woman trying to reckon with the legacy of her abusive father and marriage infidelity among a group of very close friends. The novel is set primarily in Topeka, Kansas, in the late 1990s, and is told mainly from the perspective of three characters: Adam Gordon, a high school debate champion, and his parents Jane and Jonathan, who are psychologists at a local institution known as the Foundation. They betray anxiety—anxiety about power. The Topeka School by Ben Lerner FSG T he Topeka School, Ben Lerner’s third novel, begins with a self-aware joke. The Topeka School is also autofiction: Lerner’s book tells the story of teenager Adam, the debate champion (as Ben Lerner was himself), and Adam’s parents, both psychologists (as were Lerner’s parents) living in Topeka (where Lerner lived). Glossolalia is either pure communication, the presence of the divine in language, or terrible babble, the impulse to be understood and to understand pushed to the point of implosion. We want to hear what you think about this article. At age eight, he fell and suffered a concussion, which left him temporarily unable to recognize his parents. At every turn, its beautifully realized characters are shaped, even in the privacy of their inner lives, by the pressures of history and culture—this is a book not only about how things really feel, but what things really mean. The words may be stolen from Tupac or funneled through poetry, “spread” in extemporaneous argument, shouted in a blind rage, or completely nonsensical.
At age eight, he fell and suffered a concussion, which left him temporarily unable to recognize his parents. Both earlier books feature the interior monologues and exterior dealings of Lerner-types. She has jumped overboard and swum away, and he didn’t even notice. THE TOPEKA SCHOOL. In a nonlinear narrative, the novel explores Adam's preparation for a national debate championship (which he wins), his relationship with his girlfriend Amber, and his parents' lives. He appears to be based in part on the book’s author, Ben Lerner. The novel’s prologue opens in a police station in Topeka, Kansas in the 1990s. Adam Gordon, Lerner’s protagonist—who also narrates Lerner’s acclaimed first novel, Leaving the Atocha Station—is sitting in a boat, talking. This book reeks of it. White educated men worrying about what is happening to their power, to their voices. At school, Adam falls in with the kids of the Foundation faculty; the boys among them have a tense and violent relationship with the sons of blue-collar Topekans. Adam isn’t one of those boys, but he straddles two ways of being.
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