The Topeka School: A Novel (Hardcover)

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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.

About the Author


Ben Lerner was born in Topeka, Kansas, in 1979. He has received fellowships from the Fulbright, Guggenheim, Howard, and MacArthur Foundations. His first novel, Leaving the Atocha Station, won the 2012 Believer Book Award, and excerpts from 10:04 have been awarded The Paris Review's Terry Southern Prize. He has published three poetry collections: The Lichtenberg Figures, Angle of Yaw (a finalist for the National Book Award for Poetry), and Mean Free Path. Lerner is a professor of English at Brooklyn College.

Praise For…


"[The Topeka School] is thoroughly, intimidatingly brilliant and absolutely contemporary . . . It's funny, and at times, painfully acute . . . [Lerner] is a supremely gifted prose stylist, at once theoretical and conversational; he never bores or blathers, and is always limpid. Rather than inviting the reader to look at him or his life, he invites the reader to look through him. His narrators are not solipsistic or overly interested in themselves qua themselves; the 'I' as he uses it is a vessel for language, experience, cultural theory, climate, politics, and art."
—Christine Smallwood, Harper's

"With acute social insight into the crisis of toxic masculinity and deep psychological penetration into one Midwestern family, [The Topeka School] is the rare novel of ideas that never skimps on depth of feeling."
—Adrienne Westenfeld, Esquire

Ben Lerner’s The Topeka School is the best novel of the Donald Trump era thus far . . . Maybe the most remarkable thing about The Topeka School is the way it models this possibility by gathering together the apparently distant and unrelated—psychotherapy, high school debate, Kansan politics, concussions, the drama of a marriage—into a story that feels sincere and generous.”
—Ryan Lackey, Slant

“Autofiction master Lerner (10:04) returns with his most expansive novel to date . . . Narration from the present-day and interludes hinting at a terrible tragedy add intrigue to this study of polarization and toxic masculinity.” —Entertainment Weekly

"This third novel from Lerner (Leaving the Atocha Station, 10:04) arrives laden with the kind of hype that can sink a story from the get-go (“the future of the novel is here”). And then the book itself—page by page, sentence by sentence—surmounts it . . . The onset of a coming, nameless dread is palpable—as is the sublime pleasure of Lerner’s prodigious mastery of plot, style, and form . . . To confine it to [autofiction]—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


Awe-inspiring . . . Lerner has hit on something deep, and true, in the portrait of “debate” in this book . . . The beautiful recollections of childhood in The Topeka School allow for a Portrait of the Artist–type origin story.” —Mark Greif, Bookforum

“[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 . . . 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. 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, 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

Product Details
ISBN: 9780374277789
ISBN-10: 0374277788
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Publication Date: October 2019
Pages: 304