The Topeka School

Ben Lerner. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $27 (304p) ISBN 978-0-374-27778-9
Lerner made a huge impact on contemporary fiction with his two previous drawn-from-life novels, Leaving the Atocha Station and 10:04. With his latest, he leaves behind his typically erudite first-person protagonists in favor of a Kansas boyhood in the 1990s. For the time being, high school senior Adam Gordon can only dream of “a vaguely imagined East Coast city where his experiences in Topeka could be recounted only with great irony.” But he is a brilliant member of the debate club and the son of two psychotherapists, Jonathan and Jane, who are tied to the Foundation, an experimental treatment facility where Adam is himself a patient of the eccentric (and possibly psychic) Dr. Kenneth Erwood. Readers delve deeper in the Foundation in evocative chapters narrated by Adam’s parents, who tell the story of their courtship, Jonathan’s extramarital affair with Jane’s best friend Sima, and adventures in academia. Also haunting the novel is the figure of Darren, a teenage outsider whose inclusion in Adam’s clique ends in a disastrous act of violence. Lerner’s greatest strength lies in interstitial period details in the zeitgeist: Bob Dole, Reverend Fred Phelps, and Tupac Shakur. Loosely plotted but riveting, this novel expertly locates the thread of the anxious present in the memory-stippled past. (Oct.)
Reviewed on : 08/08/2019
Release date: 10/01/2019
Genre: Fiction
Hardcover - 304 pages - 978-0-7710-4932-3
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