The Topeka School
by Ben Lerner
Pub Date 07 Nov 2019
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Adam Gordon is a senior at Topeka High School, class of '97. His parents are psychologists, his mom a famous author in the field. A renowned debater and orator, an aspiring poet, and - although it requires a lot of posturing and weight lifting - one of the cool kids, he's also one of the seniors who brings the loner Darren Eberheart into the social scene, with disastrous effects. Deftly shifting perspectives and time periods, The Topeka School is a riveting story about the challenges of raising a good son in a culture of toxic masculinity. It is also a startling prehistory of the present: the collapse of public speech, the tyranny of trolls and the new right, and the ongoing crisis of identity among white men.
‘The Topeka School is what happens when one of the most discerning, ambitious, innovative, and timely writers of our day writes his most discerning, ambitious, innovative and timely novel to date. It’s a complete pleasure to read Lerner experimenting with other minds and times, to watch his already profound talent blooming into new subjects, landscapes, and capacities. This book is a prehistory of a deeply disturbing national moment, but it’s written with the kind of intelligence, insight, and searching that makes one feel well-accompanied and, in the final hour, deeply inspired’
'In Ben Lerner’s riveting third novel, Midwestern America in the late nineties becomes a powerful allegory of our troubled present. The Topeka School deftly explores how language not only reflects but is at the very centre of our country’s most insidious crises. In prose both richly textured and many-voiced, we track the inner lives of one white family’s interconnected strengths and silences. What’s revealed is part tableau of our collective lust for belonging, part diagnosis of our ongoing national violence. This is Lerner’s most essential and provocative creation yet'
‘Ben Lerner has redefined what it means for a writer to inhabit an American present by showing how a family reckons with its past. Here the personal and political are masterfully interwoven. The Topeka School is brave, furious, and finally a work of love’ Ocean Vuong
‘The Topeka School is a novel of exhilarating intellectual inquiry, penetrating social insight and deep psychological sensitivity. 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. To the extent that we can speak of a future at present, I think the future of the novel is here’
‘Ben Lerner is a brilliant novelist, and one unafraid to make of the novel something truly new... He is one of my favourite living writers’ Rachel Kushner
‘Ben Lerner is a masterful writer who destabilizes the very notion of what a novel can achieve by making it new at every turn. The Topeka School is not only a fiction for our times, but for the ages: insightful, humane, politically astute, and true’