Things keep recurring in the novels of Ben Lerner — snatches of conversation, lines of poetry, Lerner himself. But in The Topeka School, while things keep returning, something has also been lost.
Lerner’s third novel reunites us with Adam Gordon, the protagonist — and Lerner surrogate — of his much acclaimed debut, Leaving the Atocha Station. Adam is a senior at Topeka High School in the late 1990s, an aspiring poet and champion debater (as was Lerner), whose parents are psychologists at the Foundation, ‘a world-famous psychiatric institute and hospital’ which treats just about everyone in the book.
But rather than reprising the autofiction with which Lerner has become synonymous, here he takes a new, polyphonic approach, writing in the voices of his mother, father, and the sympathetically drawn outsider, Darren, around whose act of violence the novel rotates.