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Macmillan Childrens Publishing Group
The Topeka School

The Topeka School

A Novel

Ben Lerner

Farrar, Straus and Giroux

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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.

Praise for The Topeka School

Advance Praise for The Topeka School

“[An] essayistic and engrossing novel . . . Few writers are so deeply engaged as Lerner in how our interior selves are shaped by memory and consequence . . . Increasingly powerful and heartbreaking as the story moves on. Autofiction at its smartest and most effective: self-interested, self-interrogating, but never self-involved.”
Kirkus Reviews (Starred Review)

“Ben Lerner’s forthcoming novel 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 . . . 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.”
—Nikki Shaner-Bradford, The Paris Review (Staff Pick)

“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, author of White Girls

"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. Wha… More…

Advance Praise for The Topeka School

“[An] essayistic and engrossing novel . . . Few writers are so deeply engaged as Lerner in how our interior selves are shaped by memory and consequence . . . Increasingly powerful and heartbreaking as the story moves on. Autofiction at its smartest and most effective: self-interested, self-interrogating, but never self-involved.”
Kirkus Reviews (Starred Review)

“Ben Lerner’s forthcoming novel 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 . . . 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.”
—Nikki Shaner-Bradford, The Paris Review (Staff Pick)

“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, author of White Girls

"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. What’s revealed is part tableau of our collective lust for belonging, part diagnosis of our ongoing national violence. This is Lerner’s most essential and provocative creation yet." —Claudia Rankine, author of Citizen: An American Lyric

"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, author of The Argonauts

"The Topeka School is a novel of exhilarating intellectual inquiry, penetrating social insight, and deep psychological sensitivity. Its beautifully realized 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, author of Normal People

"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, author of The Flamethrowers

"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, author of On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous

Praise for 10:04

"Reading Ben Lerner gives me the tingle at the base of my spine that happens whenever I encounter a writer of true originality. He is a courageous, immensely intelligent artist who panders to no one and yet is a delight to read." —Jeffrey Eugenides, author of The Marriage Plot

"Just how many singular reading experiences can one novelist serve up? . . . 10:04 is a mind–blowing book … Strange and spectacular." —Maureen Corrigan, NPR’s Fresh Air

“This is a book that belongs to the future.” —Giles Harvey, The New York Review of Books

“[Lerner’s] concerns wrap around the modern moment with terrifying rightness . . . 10:04 describes what it feels like to be alive.” —John Freeman, The Boston Globe

“Mr. Lerner is among the most interesting young American novelists at present . . . We come to relish seeing the world through [the narrator’s] eyes.” —Dwight Garner, The New York Times

“Ingenious . . . This brain-tickling book imbues real experiences with a feeling of artistic possibility, leaving the observable world ‘a little changed, a little charged.’” —Sam Sacks, The Wall Street Journal

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Reviews from Goodreads

Ben Lerner

Ben Lerner was born in Topeka, Kansas, in 1979. He has received fellowships from the Fulbright, Guggenheim, and MacArthur Foundations, and is the author of the internationally acclaimed novels Leaving the Atocha Station and 10:04, and an essay, The Hatred of Poetry. His poetry collections include The Lichtenberg Figures, Angle of Yaw, and Mean Free Path. Lerner is a professor of English at Brooklyn College.

image of Ben Lernero
© Matt Lerner

Ben Lerner

The Poetry Foundation

Farrar, Straus and Giroux

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