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The Topeka School (2019)

por Ben Lerner

MembrosCríticasPopularidadeAvaliação médiaMenções
1,0774818,997 (3.54)63
Fiction. Literature. HTML:

Named one of the most anticipated fall books by:
Entertainment Weekly, Esquire, Vogue, Vulture, The Observer, Kirkus, Lit Hub, The Millions, The Week, Oprah Magazine, The Paris Review Daily, Nylon, Pacific Standard, Publishers Weekly, Slate, The Philadelphia Inquirer, and The Guardian

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.
Cover photograph from The Wichita Eagle. © 1990 McClatchy. All rights reserved. Used under license. Kansas.
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Mostrando 1-5 de 48 (seguinte | mostrar todos)
Nicely encapsulated summary is the author's UK agent's description https://www.curtisbrown.co.uk/client/ben-lerner/work/the-topeka-school :
Deftly shifting perspectives and time periods, [b:The Topeka School|43565369|The Topeka School|Ben Lerner|https://i.gr-assets.com/images/S/compressed.photo.goodreads.com/books/1555088207l/43565369._SY75_.jpg|67209658] 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, the ongoing crisis of identity among white men.
[b:The Topeka School|43565369|The Topeka School|Ben Lerner|https://i.gr-assets.com/images/S/compressed.photo.goodreads.com/books/1555088207l/43565369._SY75_.jpg|67209658] is another "autofiction" from Ben Lerner with many aspects of memoir as he writes about growing up in Topeka, excelling in writing poetry and debating, the son of psychologists (renowned feminist Harriet Lerner who wrote [b:The Dance of Anger|31312|The Dance of Anger|Harriet Lerner|https://i.gr-assets.com/images/S/compressed.photo.goodreads.com/books/1388261597l/31312._SY75_.jpg|31603] is his mom). He explores language and how it affects our lives, personally and politically - you never forget he's a poet, but the language of psychology is never far from the conversation either.
One of the psychiatrists at the institute where his parents worked, Klaus would respond by delivering his signature quotation from Niels Bohr, the quotation he always quoted when he seemed to contradict himself, a saying his conversation was inexorably working toward, one he loved so much he'd stop and stand still, smiling, to deliver it: "The opposite of a truth," Klaus quoted, "is a falsehood; but the opposite of a profound truth"--pause for emphasis, sound of sprinklers, insects, push mowers, felt absence of city noise, Kenny Rogers from a passing car--"may be another profound truth." It either is or is not August (Klaus removes his anachronistic glasses, round lenses, wipes his face, replaces them, resumes walking); if I assert it's August when it isn't--simply false; but if I say that life is pain, that is true, profoundly so; so, too, that life is joy; the more profound the statement, the more reversible the deep truths are sedimented in syntax, the terms can be reversed, just as there is no principle of noncontradiction, no law of excluded middle, governing the unconscious."
I love the insertion of "Kenny Rogers from a passing car."
Deceptive signers on the TV news announcing crises in gibberish instead of sign language. The constant presence of the Phelpses, a right-wing family marching with placards. His mother circumvents similar crank callers by pretending not to hear them and having them repeat their jibes, a technique she uses with her son on the phone hysterical with grief over a "dear John" letter. Repetition in speech figures significantly, as do tornadoes. The sad violence perpetrated by a mentally challenged classmate. The father's challenges treating "lost boys" while fighting his own battles with infidelity. Adam's wily conservative debate coach.
But where are the editors? Or what was the point in the repetitions? Is this a message for the discerning reader of this dense and intelligent book?
"He passes no inn or public house, no one throws him a penny from a hay cart that he might stop for bread or beer" describes Darren's long, sad odyssey home from the lake after being abandoned by his peers on p.153. Our hero walking across Central Park at night: "He passes no inn or public house, no one throws him a penny from a hay cart that he might stop for bread or beer." p. 181
My instant crush on Donna Selkie, the curve where her shoulder became her breast." p. 161 (his father speaking as a young man)
...my mind was picturing Sima half-awake beside Eric: fall of her hair across her pillow, slight part of her lips, curve where her shoulder met her breast." p. 171 (his father speaking again as an adult)
"The problem for him in high school was that debate made you a nerd and poetry made you a pussy..." p. 127
And it is a funny book. The scene of the percolating teen antagonists in the big box store while their mothers make social conversation was priceless.
Political and social upheavals occur alongside the protagonist's own traumas. He touches back and forth with references to his present life as a politically active father of two daughters, married to a professor, living and writing in Brooklyn.
I did not want the tale to end. Lerner's fiction has always had a strong attraction and this book is no different although perhaps his second novel, [b:10:04|20613582|10 04|Ben Lerner|https://i.gr-assets.com/images/S/compressed.photo.goodreads.com/books/1405301226l/20613582._SY75_.jpg|39894949], remains my favorite. ( )
  featherbooks | May 7, 2024 |
While this novel has received critical acclaim, I struggled to connect
with it. I guess it's a bit unfair, but I really have come to dislike
"autofiction" (how many novels about writers does one need?) That
said, there are some very captivating passages---the author is very
gifted, his vocabularly is astounding---but on the whole I found it
tedious. The repeated, interlocking touchstones (again impressive)
felt to me like "the spread," the nonsensical overflow of
argumentation from "competitive" debaters referenced in the novel.
Ultimately the novel seems to want to say something about the crisis
of masculinity and its relationship to the present socio-political
situation in America. But I think it's extremely difficult for a
semi-autobiographical work from someone whose own upbringing is so far
outside the typical experience---super famous psychologist parents, et
cetera---to write something with universal meaning. ( )
  eherbst | Feb 4, 2024 |
This is on my DNF (did not finish) list. I can't. It literally gives me a headache. The writing trend may be to jump back and forth and sideways, but when you have this many characters, forget about it. I do have a little psychology background, so the explanations regarding deviancy or unwanted behaviors were highly interesting. However, this story focuses on chasing so many butterflies, going back and forth in time to describe the characters and the events that shaped them, with no clue where the story is going or why so much mundane is necessary. Each night I read the story, I would TRY to stop at a point where I would not lose what I had learned. But there was so much I did not understand. There was a ton of historical background you needed to appreciate this story (I guess), and I don't think the average reader will have it. I don't usually consider myself an average reader until I have to read a highly historical book. I also think references to Palin and Trump were just an excuse to throw a current political viewpoint in the book. It didn't have any other meaning to me, otherwise. Good grief! I wanted to relate to the characters, but the passages had so many terms and vocabulary that did not aid to building to whatever tied it all together. At the half mark, I made the call to take my life back and stop reading. I refuse to read a book that I have to rewrite in my mind to make it make sense. And the reviews are so mixed. Either people totally agree like I do, or totally think it is wonderful. Lots of times, readers will have a taste of a style from other books by that author. Even so, I could have read nearly all those reviews and still gotten frustrated with reading this book. I appreciate Goodreads giving me the opportunity to read it, but this genre, whatever it may be, is DEFINITELY not my style. All I could get out of it was adults and their offspring have problems that are often passed on from one generation to the next. If that theme could have been built and all the other extraneous ideas removed, chances are great I would have finished this book. That is one great storyline lost in the middle of the ramble. ( )
  doehlberg63 | Dec 2, 2023 |
Ben Lerner’s The Topeka School is abstract mish mash. Too many complicated plot lines that don’t add up to a cohesive reading experience. If Lerner wants to write a novel then he should put aside his “poet” cap. The theme of toxic masculinity is obscured by Lerner’s haphazard writing. Not sure who enjoy this book, but I’m not a fan. ( )
  GordonPrescottWiener | Aug 24, 2023 |
It has some really good thoughts on many cultural woes, specifically on toxic masculinity. It also has moments of really good descriptions throughout. While I can see quite a bit fo character development, the use of multiple perspectives and timelines detracts from the story as a whole, and makes it difficult to follow because of how disjointed it is. Great book for the commentary, not for plot. ( )
  Griffin_Reads | Jul 22, 2023 |
Mostrando 1-5 de 48 (seguinte | mostrar todos)
... 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.
adicionada por Lemeritus | editarBookPage, 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.
adicionada por Lemeritus | editarBooklist, 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.
adicionada por Lemeritus | editarKirkus 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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Fiction. Literature. HTML:

Named one of the most anticipated fall books by:
Entertainment Weekly, Esquire, Vogue, Vulture, The Observer, Kirkus, Lit Hub, The Millions, The Week, Oprah Magazine, The Paris Review Daily, Nylon, Pacific Standard, Publishers Weekly, Slate, The Philadelphia Inquirer, and The Guardian

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.
Cover photograph from The Wichita Eagle. © 1990 McClatchy. All rights reserved. Used under license. Kansas.

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