The Topeka School: A Novel

Written by:
Ben Lerner

Unabridged Audiobook

Release Date
October 2019
10 hours 36 minutes
Named one of the most anticipated fall books by:
Entertainment Weekly, Esquire, Vogue, Vulture, The Observer, Kirkus, Lit Hub, The Millions, The Week, Oprah Magazine, The Paris Review Daily, Nylon, Pacific Standard, Publishers Weekly, Slate, The Philadelphia Inquirer, and The Guardian

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.

Cover photograph from The Wichita Eagle. © 1990 McClatchy. All rights reserved. Used under license.
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Kenneth S.

Great book and excellent narration. The book had several parallels to my own life, making it extra captivating. It is beautifully written and I love the way the fictional storyline and individual experiences tie into the social/political circumstances of the past and present. One advantage of listening to the audio version was having different narrators for the different voices. I give the book 4 stars instead of 5 because I felt disoriented at times by all the different vignettes and when things were taking place during the book's 40-year timespan.

The author is clearly intelligent. However I found the book a little hard to follow and felt at times like the vignettes were not brought to conclusion. Given all the praise it received, I think I better read it again. I suggest anyone who reads the book , read a good summary first.

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