Ben Lerner

Books Anna Stein, +1 212 556 5600 Email Anna Stein

The Topeka School

book | Oct 2019
UK → Granta (Ed. Laura Barber)
US & Canada → Farrar, Straus & Giroux Inc (Ed. Mitzi Angel)

Featured in The Times' Best Fiction of 2019 List

Featured in the Financial Times Best Fiction of 2019 List 

Featured in TLS' Books of the Year 2019 List 

Featured in Vulture's Best Books of 2019 List

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 The Foundation, a well-known psychiatric clinic that has attracted staff and patients from around the world. Adam is a renowned debater and orator, expected to win a national championship before he heads to college. He is an aspiring poet. He is—although it requires a great deal of posturing, weight lifting, and creatine supplements—one of the cool kids, passing himself off as a “real man,” 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 that brings the loner Darren Eberheart—who is, unbeknownst to Adam, his father’s patient—into the social scene, with disastrous effects.

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, the ongoing crisis of identity among white men.

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Claire Nozieres manages the translation rights for The Topeka School

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Reviews

The Topeka School is what happens when one of the most discerning, ambitious, innovative, and timely writers of our day writes his 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

In Ben Lerner’s riveting third novel, Midwestern America in the late nineties becomes a powerful allegory of our troubled present. The Topeka School deftly explores how language not only reflects but is at the very center of our country’s most insidious crises. In prose both richly textured and many-voiced, we track the inner lives of one white family’s interconnected strengths and silences . . . This is Lerner’s most essential and provocative creation yet.

Claudia Rankine
Author of Citizen: An American Lyric
Full Review

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

Ben Lerner is a brilliant novelist, and one unafraid to make of the novel something truly new...He is one of my favorite living writers. 

Rachel Kushner

Ben Lerner is a masterful writer who destabilizes the very notion of what a novel can achieve by making it new at every turn. The Topeka School is not only a fiction for our times, but for the ages: insightful, humane, politically astute, and true.

Hilton Als

Fiction at its smartest and most effective: self-interested, self-interrogating, but never self-involved.

Kirkus (Starred)
Full Review

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.

The Paris Review

Lerner’s latest novel is as brilliant and heady as ever, and manages to stand inside the genre he helped popularize—autofiction—while also stretching and warping it outward.

Lit Hub’s Most Anticipated Books of 2019

A powerful allegory of our troubled present.

Claudia Rankine
The Millions

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

Publishers Weekly
Full Review

 Lerner is especially keen in depicting how the bizarre pageantry and idiosyncratic rules of high school forensic debates in the '90s foreshadowed the ways in which contemporary discourse has devolved into absurdity.

Maris Kreizman
PS Mag
Full Review

The Topeka School’ is a novel of exhilarating intellectual inquiry, penetrating social insight and deep psychological sensitivity. At every turn, its beautifully realised 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

It would seem foolish not to note that Lerner—one of the central modern autofiction writers—is also a poet who grew up in Topeka, and that his mother and father are both therapists. But to confine it to that genre—or to herald it beyond its aspirations—would be to reduce its power. The Topeka School is a book that stands on its own.

Corey Seymour
Vogue

Ben Lerner’s third novel, The Topeka School, is an education in the sympathetic imagination, a deep and bracing intellectual challenge, a powerful political statement. As usual, Lerner plays winningly in the fertile ground between fiction and memoir, as usual he is often hilarious and occasionally infuriating. Wider-reaching, subtler and kinder than his earlier works, this is a novel to cherish.

Observer

Ben Lerner is arguably the hottest novelist writing in America today, in complete control of his ideas and his prose, and ambitious with both. Following Leaving the Atocha Station (2011) and 10.04 (2014), his third novel tells the story of a high-school senior in Midwestern America in the Nineties, tracing the cultural forces that led to Trump.

Telegraph

The multi-faceted roles he inhabits as poet, essayist, and critic (as well as a former champion debater himself) are on full display in this, his fourth novel. there is emotional excavation; political exposition and critique; historical exploration; burgeoning poem fragments; even a long Molly Bloom-esque post-cunnilingus monologue.

Vanity Fair

The Topeka School is a series of motifs—interpretations of its own plot. Like a lot of contemporary fiction, it tells you how to read it, serving as criticism and novel in one.

Harper's Magazine

The strength of Lerner’s novel is the way it undertakes a task it acknowledges to be impossible: the salvage of a Whitmanesque “we” from our polluted national language. Lerner’s character pondered this challenge in “10:04,” but “The Topeka School” is his first prose work to make an attempt to overcome it. Like John Ashbery, Lerner is peering through the convex mirror of our discourse, but still writing — writing towards a truer language on its other side.

The Harvard Crimson

Ben Lerner has accomplished something comparably awe-inspiring with The Topeka School, though in reverse....In the new novel, mother and father finally take over the life story, speaking chapters alternately with the narrator-author in their own (ventriloquized) voices. The theme might be said to be “repetition across the generations”; the puzzle, whether individual progress is possible in a world whose hopes have declined from revolution to the “white noise at the end of history.”

Bookforum

Ben Lerner’s third novel, The Topeka School (3 October), is an education in the sympathetic imagination, a deep and bracing intellectual challenge, a powerful political statement. As usual, Lerner plays winningly in the fertile ground between fiction and memoir, as usual he is often hilarious and occasionally infuriating. Wider-reaching, subtler and kinder than his earlier works, this is a novel to cherish.

Guardian

Lerner's interrogation of what it means to be a young white man, and the pervasiveness of toxic masculinity in a culture that also offers ready access to weapons, is an unsettling, insightful, and riveting book, one that feels both current and prescient, and undeniably vital.

Nylon
34 Books You'll Want To Read This Fall

Ben Lerner’s The Topeka School is the best novel of the Donald Trump era thus far.

Slant

When I imagine the genesis of the novel, I picture his taking a mental snapshot of any contemporary newspaper and adding to his to-do list “Write about how we got here.” The book is almost preposterously courageous, and it succeeds.

Molly Young
Vulture

And where “Atocha Station” and its successor (and plausible sequel), “10:04,” aimed for European tautness, “The Topeka School” rocks an American amplitude, ranging freely from parenthood to childhood, from toxic masculinity to the niceties of cunnilingus, from Freud’s Oedipus complex to Tupac’s “All Eyez on Me.

Garth Risk Hallberg
Author of 'City on Fire'

Extraordinary brilliant . . . Through the wizardry of Lerner’s prose, this battle of adolescent elocution becomes an emblem for the fiery state of American culture . . . Among the myriad miracles of The Topeka School is that it accomplishes so much, captures so much and questions so much about America in fewer than 300 pages. Here is that all-too-rare masterpiece: a svelte big novel. I’m as awed by Lerner’s artistry as I am by his insight, which seems downright forensic in its ability to trace the pathologies consuming us.

Washington Post

Mr. Lerner can get away with writing so many books that are autofictional because a spirit speaks through him—because his language takes on a life of its own. He manages to shed himself when he marshals enough empathy and eloquence to imagine the worlds of others. If only all lost boys could renounce their self-absorption long enough to do the same.

The Wall Street Journal

A potent, painful picking-apart of trauma; the beginnings of the age of information overload and, above all, toxic masculinity… Lerner brilliantly pleats and plays with time… Whether he's considering our era's weaponised rhetoric, or the (white middle-class male) national psyche… Lerner is consistently searing. His unashamedly serious, but never worthy, novel feels to be one of the most essential published this year

Daily Mail

A funny, penetrating book about language, politics and masculinity... there’s so much going on: connections everywhere, layers of irony, several narrative procedures running concurrently. Above all, it is fascinated with the possibilities and plasticity of language: talking therapy, policy debate and rapping all ferociously scrutinised. What stops it from being dry is Lerner’s wit, his eye for period detail (whether it’s Bob Dole or Eminem) and his poet’s ear for sounds (the distant whistle of a Union Pacific train or the beeps and hisses of a dial-up modem). Lerner never shies away from emotional or intellectual complications. If anything, he feeds on them

Evening Standard

[Lerner] combines the autofictional (Lerner’s parents were psychologists at the Menninger clinic in Topeka, where he grew up) and the metafictional with exceptional dexterity… The Topeka School occupies multiple points of view: Adam’s, Jane’s, Jonathan’s and Darren’s. This gives it an expansiveness

Financial Times

This riveting novel takes a sharp look at toxic masculinity and its effect on young men

Good Housekeeping

[Lerner] has a journalistic end in mind, a genealogy of contemporary American violence… but he is a real novelist, not an op-ed writer masquerading as one… Lerner wants particulars, examples, case studies, not a catch-all, and his methods are diffuse and scattershot. The question of (white, male) violence and its causes is left in the background. The foreground contains, as it should, stories, memories of childhood, and slow build-up of imagery and metaphor. The motif that seems to tie it all together is glossolalia, what the gospels call “speaking in tongues”, the consequence of rapture or psychosis… It’s a cheap trick, and it works… The writer Lerner reminds me of most if Edouard Louis… The women in Lerner’s books are saved from their resentments by their capacity to talk, and to listen… Lerner is listening too, and written a fine, exacting novel about what he has heard.’ Five stars.

Telegraph

One of the best writers working today… [Lerner’s] first two books… are athletic and funny and thrillingly intelligent. Even readers wary of writing about writing will find much to admire… perhaps new readers should start with the new book, The Topeka School. I don’t want to pronounce it his best because all three novels are excellent in different ways, but it is a departure… a tender, extended portrait of two good parents, a rarity in literature… the nonlinear structure produces narrative lacunae that powerfully enhance our understanding of character and event. The different voices are done simply and subtly. No crass ventriloquism here. Complex ideas are packed like alveoli in the lungs, creating an internal surface area much greater than you’d expect from 304 pages. But there’s always plently of oxygen: everything feels breezy and effortless despite Lerner’s unbridled intellect. What can’t he do?... [Lerner is] fearsomely articulate… I expect to be recommending [this} for the rest of my life

Sunday Times

A perfectly weighted, hugely intelligent, entirely entertaining novel that does more than simply mine his childhood or explore what it is to be an author; he has taken on American masculinity, group identity and marginalization, political messaging and generational exchange, and has done so not didactically but generously and with admirable sensitivity 

Toby Lichtig
TLS

Some of the novel's most breathtaking moments come in its rapid movements through time and place, often with a single sentence [...] brilliantly flexible, it's a work whose form expresses Lerner's remarkable intelligence and attention to the entwined workings of language and masculinity

Literary Review

It’s official. Ben Lerner is America’s trendiest writer. In this book he moves away from the comic autofiction that made his name to address some big, complex themes… Lerner is a dazzlingly intelligent writer, and for anyone looking to understand contemporary America this tale of toxic masculinity, resentful outcasts, rigged high-school debates and political disaster is a good place to start

The Times

A masterful exercise in language… It is at its best when collapsing the difference between political debate, poetry, appropriation, and hate speech, and thinking about what happens when you mix, as we have done, the language of therapy with that of art, or work with love or power with clout – and to those excluded from any of it

Dazed

I admired so much about Ben Lerner’s The Topeka School, an object lesson in less-is-more… Lerner inhabits [his characters] voices so subtly it makes most other first person narratives look like ham acting… [he] knows exactly when to hold back, using silence to complicate the texture and expand the scope of a big novel that fits perfectly into just 304 pages. Judicious metafictional touches not only comment on the act of writing, they also heighten the novel’s verisimilitude. That’s a hard trick to pull off, but in Lerner’s hands, a magical simultaneity occurs: we get the apples, the fermentation process, and the sparkling cider all at once

Claire Lowdon
The Sunday Times

One of the most talked about novels of the Autumn

Monocle Magazine

When early copies of The Topeka School arrived in London and New York, I heard stories of people cancelling dinner dates in order to read them

LRB

I admired so much about Ben Lerner’s The Topeka School, an object lesson in less-is-more… Lerner inhabits [his characters] voices so subtly it makes most other first person narratives look like ham acting… [he] knows exactly when to hold back, using silence to complicate the texture and expand the scope of a big novel that fits perfectly into just 304 pages. Judicious metafictional touches not only comment on the act of writing, they also heighten the novel’s verisimilitude. That’s a hard trick to pull off, but in Lerner’s hands, a magical simultaneity occurs: we get the apples, the fermentation process, and the sparkling cider all at once

Claire Lowdon
Best Books of the Year, TLS

Rising star Ben Lerner came into his own with the stunningly multilayered The Topeka School, exploring voice, power and masculinity in the 90s and now

Best fiction of 2019
Guardian

[The opening scene] closely resembles the first in David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest, published in 1996, a year before The Topeka School is set, and long established as Gen X’s masterpiece of toxic masculinity, millennial anxiety and linguistic genius. It’s a lineage traceable back to Hamlet, and Lerner’s novel also revolves around the existential crises of a privileged and gifted adolescent white teenager with parental issues…. But where its literary predecessors framed the breakdown of language as final and irrecoverable (“the rest is silence”), The Topeka School’s closing chapter puts forward the possibility that different subject positions might join in something like temporary but workable consensus… Exceptional

Art Review

This is a book that simultaneously gives no fucks and all of the fucks

Vulture

Representation
Books
Anna Stein
+1 212 556 5600
Email Anna Stein
Translation Rights
Claire Nozieres
+44 (0)20 7393 4425
Email Claire Nozieres