The Topeka School, by Ben Lerner (Granta 2019)

Neil's picture

The Topeka School is by one of the rising stars of the American literary scene. He has published poetry, an essay collection, and two previous novels, but this novel is at a new level. Ben Lerner is certainly ambitious and innovative, and there is a lot to admire about this subtle, discerning and timely novel. On the surface, it's a coming of age novel, set in the late 90s in Topeka, a smallish city and state capital of Kansas. Through shifting perspectives, Lerner draws out, as the blurb says, a prehistory of the present. In the background, slightly off the page, a critique of modern society, the rise of the right, toxic masculinity, the collapse of public speech, all play out in a tragic tale. I think this is one of the most brilliant novels I have read for some time, and restored my faith in the novel as an influential form. It deserves a wide readership.