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The Topeka School

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The Topeka School

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The Topeka School

Author:  Ben Lerner

From the award-winning author of10:04andLeaving 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 1997. 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 who 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, Ben Lerner’sThe Topeka Schoolis the story of a family’s struggles and 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.

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