One of Adam's classmates, Darren Eberheart, a social misfit and … Race goes largely unexplored, other than that all of these Kansan teenagers like to rap and make gang signs, believing that they’re expressing their alienation in a way that is somehow powerful and dangerous. If the novel is a chronicle of his coming-of-age in language, the suggestion is that it is also a larger semantic origin story, about faux-populist, frenetic Trumpian rhetoric, and the subset of articulate, angry men who helped cultivate it. He’s frightened, and when he eventually finds her, he’s furious. There’s a woman trying to reckon with the legacy of her abusive father and marriage infidelity among a group of very close friends. The characters were unlikeable, the story non-existent, and an unsatisfying ending. The novel is set primarily in Topeka, Kansas, in the late 1990s, and is told mainly from the perspective of three characters: Adam Gordon, a high school debate champion, and his parents Jane and Jonathan, who are psychologists at a local institution known as the Foundation. She prods “the Men” until they’re shouting or, unwilling to shout, forced to hang up. Adam Gordon is a senior at Topeka High School, class of 1997. In America, Lerner reminds us, you can sound like an idiot all you want, but if you master the spread, you rule. When they are challenged, they explode. Like Jonathan’s “lost boys,” they seem to have plenty of advantages—so what is the rage about? After Amber jumps out of the boat and swims away at the beginning of the novel, Adam looks for her frantically, stumbling through a community of lake houses so uncannily identical that he accidentally lets himself into the wrong home, thinking it’s Amber’s. In his teenage years, he occasionally had episodes of glossolalia, meaning he would uncontrollably speak words that had no clear meaning … In the book, a Foundation analyst offers an explanation: This diagnosis is compelling but unsatisfying, partly because it ignores how directed white male rage is: It has targets, and those targets bespeak something more than godlessness or hunger or existential emptiness. They betray anxiety—anxiety about power. At school, Adam falls in with the kids of the Foundation faculty; the boys among them have a tense and violent relationship with the sons of blue-collar Topekans. While in college, he dated a young woman who left him for someone else while she was studying abroad. They empty streams of abuse and death threats into the phone until she interrupts them in an innocent tone to say the connection is bad; could they please speak up? She doesn’t apologize for scaring him. Adam was born and raised in Topeka, Kansas. At the same time, debate is a route to the flow state he craves: Again and again in The Topeka School, characters fall into a kind of glossolalia, or “word salad,” the breakdown of grammar commonly observed in religious rapture or extreme states of psychosis. It seems sort of ridiculous until you remember the specter haunting this book, an extemporaneous wonder whose incoherent babbling serves to dissemble, deceive, distract. A bildungsroman, or coming-of-age novel, it begins in 1990s Topeka, Kansas, following two young men, Darren and Adam, whose different family backgrounds and experiences lead them to have very different attachments, values, and ambivalences toward contemporary America. Though Adam is sensitive and well intentioned, he exists on a spectrum of men who use language not to communicate or connect, but to indulge in ecstatic solipsism, or to effectively erase the person they’re addressing. One of the hallmarks of Lerner’s fiction is the way that it brings a single consciousness into collision with broad sociopolitical movements. He can deploy “his Foundation vocabulary” and freestyle rap with fluidity and abandon, words “unfold[ing] at a speed he could not consciously control.” Adam is especially gifted at extemporaneous argument, which has become his way of aggressively dominating others. They both work at a psychiatric clinic that has attracted staff and patients from around the world. They are often better, more profound communicators (with her books, Jane reaches more people than any other character does), but they exist here as men’s linguistic and emotional foils. The working class, too, seems mostly tangential: The anger of midwestern, educated, middle-class men and their blue-collar counterparts blurs together, even if it’s expressed in different vocabularies. everything you need to sharpen your knowledge of The Topeka School. The characters were unlikeable, the story non-existent, and an unsatisfying ending. At age eight, he fell and suffered a concussion, which left him temporarily unable to recognize his parents. Adam went to … Adam trains for the national speech-and-debate tournament with a former champion also from Topeka, Peter Evanson, who is even better at verbal combat than Adam—and who will later “be a key architect of the most right-wing governorship Kansas has ever known … an important model for the Trump administration.” He is a master of what’s called “the spread,” or the act of making arguments and jamming in facts at such an unintelligibly fast pace that an opponent can’t possibly respond to them all effectively. The Topeka School (2019) is a novel by American novelist and poet Ben Lerner. The entire family struggles at one point or another with success and privilege, something that opens up contradictions within each one of them, and the book … In Atocha Station, an extremely stoned Adam—again monologuing—marvels, before passing out, at “language becoming the experience it described.” In 10:04, Ben is the kind of guy who admits that he cried on a park bench by referring to “a mild lacrimal event.”.