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On the surface, Ben Lerner's novel "The Topeka School" is of a place and a time. But defunct Menninger Clinic could replace "The Foundation." Harriet Lerner could replace "Jane Gordon." The school names are the same: Topeka West High School and the Sunshine Montessori preschool. We experience the nitty-gritty of competitive high school debate as we read about three friends, one who goes astray, committing an act of violence that no one saw coming.
Ben Lerner has written a novel about our lives in America right now. He writes about families, workplace gender politics and discrimination, academia and bullying, happiness and ambition, violence and adolescent desire, and where the seeds of our dysfunctional public discourse were sewn and flourished.
"The Topeka School" is one of those amazing novels that captures a specific place and period, even as it reveals transcendent truths about the human condition. I cannot stop thinking about all the humanity infused in each character. Not every novelist can by brainy and accessible, but in his new book, Ben Lerner embodies both qualities.— Sarah Bagby
“It’s the late ’90s in Topeka, and high school senior Adam Gordon is partying, going to school, and preparing for a national speech and debate competition—living a life he expects to reflect back upon with irony and detachment in some urbane, imaginary future. Lerner shifts between perspectives, stealing stylistic bits from autofiction and documentary; he reinvents the way narrative can place the moments of our lives in the context of history, both global and hyper-local, exploring how history inflicts trauma onto us and how we, in turn, inflict that trauma back onto history. And he does all this while toying with language and the spaces where it breaks down as we attempt to self-define. Simply put, The Topeka School is a work of genius.”
— Chris Lee, Boswell Book Company, Milwaukee, WI