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The Topeka School

Written by: Ben Lerner
Length: 10 hrs and 34 mins
4 out of 5 stars (13 ratings)

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Publisher's Summary

A New York Times, Time, GQ, Vulture, and Washington Post Top 10 Book of the Year

One of Barack Obama's Favourite Books of the Year

Finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Prize, and the National Book Critics Circle Award

Shortlisted for the Rathbones Folio Prize

Winner of the Hefner Heitz Kansas Book Award 

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, hailed by Maggie Nelson as Ben Lerner's "most discerning, ambitious, innovative, and timely novel to date."

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.

©2019 Ben Lerner (P)2019 McClelland & Stewart

What the critics say

The Topeka School is [Lerner’s] 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.” (Maggie Nelson, author of The Argonauts)

The Topeka School is a novel of exhilarating intellectual inquiry, penetrating social insight, and deep psychological sensitivity. 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. To the extent that we can speak of a future at present, I think the future of the novel is here.” (Sally Rooney, author of Conversations with Friends and Normal People)

"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, author of On Earth We're Briefly Gorgeous)

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So boring

I can't understand why people enjoyed this book. It's horribly boring. Avoid at all costs

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Perfectly well-suited to shout out to your deserving literary friends

The world is full of boring memoirs. With sumptuous wordsmithery, Lerner elevates his experiences miles (kilometres) above the flotsam and jetsam of usual life stories. Tell your friends, if they are worthy of a magnificent novel, adequately performed.