The Topeka School: Portrait of the artist as a young, white, privileged man

Review: Ben Lerner exposes the seam between the human-constructed world and the abyss beyond

Ben Lerner. Photograph: Ulf Andersen/Getty

Ben Lerner. Photograph: Ulf Andersen/Getty

Poet and novelist Ben Lerner’s The Topeka School is a portrait of the artist as a young, white, privileged man.

Lerner’s “age of anxiety” fiction unspools a song of self. Lerner spent 2003-2004 in Madrid on a fellowship. Leaving the Atocha Station (2011) depicts a Lerner-like figure as a transparently ridiculous waster and pseud on a fellowship in 2003-2004 Madrid. 10:04 (2014) is, recursively, about Lerner writing 10:04. In the abstract they sound insufferably self-involved. Actually, both capture the feeling of being alive in the early 21st century and perform poetry’s work of rendering the familiar strange. They’re also wickedly funny.

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