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Leaving the Atocha Station
Cover of Leaving the Atocha Station
Leaving the Atocha Station
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Adam Gordon is a brilliant, if highly unreliable, young American poet on a prestigious fellowship in Madrid, struggling to establish his sense of self and his relationship to art. What is actual when our experiences are mediated by language, technology, medication, and the arts? Is poetry an essential art form, or merely a screen for the reader's projections? Instead of following the dictates of his fellowship, Adam's "research" becomes a meditation on the possibility of the genuine in the arts and beyond: are his relationships with the people he meets in Spain as fraudulent as he fears his poems are? A witness to the 2004 Madrid train bombings and their aftermath, does he participate in historic events or merely watch them pass him by?

In prose that veers between the comic and tragic, the self-contemptuous and the inspired, Leaving the Atocha Station is a portrait of the artist as a young man in an age of Google searches, pharmaceuticals, and spectacle.

Adam Gordon is a brilliant, if highly unreliable, young American poet on a prestigious fellowship in Madrid, struggling to establish his sense of self and his relationship to art. What is actual when our experiences are mediated by language, technology, medication, and the arts? Is poetry an essential art form, or merely a screen for the reader's projections? Instead of following the dictates of his fellowship, Adam's "research" becomes a meditation on the possibility of the genuine in the arts and beyond: are his relationships with the people he meets in Spain as fraudulent as he fears his poems are? A witness to the 2004 Madrid train bombings and their aftermath, does he participate in historic events or merely watch them pass him by?

In prose that veers between the comic and tragic, the self-contemptuous and the inspired, Leaving the Atocha Station is a portrait of the artist as a young man in an age of Google searches, pharmaceuticals, and spectacle.

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About the Author-
  • Born in Topeka, Kansas, in 1979,Ben Lerner is the author of three books of poetry The Lichtenberg Figures, Angle of Yaw, and Mean Free Path. He has been a finalist for the National Book Award and the Northern California Book Award, a Fulbright Scholar in Spain, and the recipient of a 2010-2011 Howard Foundation Fellowship. In 2011 he became the first American to win the Preis der Stadt Münster für Internationale Poesie. Leaving the Atocha Station is his first novel.

Reviews-
  • Publisher's Weekly

    July 4, 2011
    In Madrid on a fellowship, a young American poet examines his ambivalence about authenticity in this noteworthy debut novel by acclaimed poet Lerner, whose poetry collection, Angle of Yaw, was a finalist for the 2006 National Book Award. Adam, the hilariously unreliable narrator who describes himself as a "violent, bipolar, compulsive liar," is both repellent and reassuringly familiar, contradictorily wishing to connect and to alienate. His social interactions are often lost in translation: "They wanted the input of a young American poet writing and reading abroad and wasn't that what I was, not just what I was pretending to be? Maybe only my fraudulence was fraudulent." Lerner has fun with the interplay between the unreliable spoken word and subtleties in speech and body language, capturing the struggle of a young artist unsure of the meaning or value of his art. Even major events, like the 2004 Madrid train bombings, are simply moments that Adam is both witness to and separate from; entering into a conversation around the wreckage, he argues: "Poetry makes nothing happen." Lerner succeeds in drawing out the problems inherent in art, expectation, and communication. And his Adam is a complex creation, relatable but unreliable, humorous but sad, at once a young man adrift and an artist intensely invested in his surroundings.

  • Library Journal

    July 1, 2011

    Poets turn to writing fiction for a variety of reasons. Sometimes, they're curious about the possibilities of the genre and think that their poetic skills are transferable to the medium of prose. Lerner (The Lichtenberg Figures) is the latest poet to attempt this conversion, and his debut novel follows protagonist Adam Gordon, a young American poet who wins a yearlong fellowship to Madrid. Adam spends much of his residency suffering from the nagging suspicion that he is unable to have authentic experiences. Mediated by a steady diet of antidepressants, drugs, and alcohol, his life in Spain is portrayed as a series of shifting surfaces that lack any possibility of meaningful social or political engagement. VERDICT While well written and full of captivating ideas, this novel might have been better as a collection of essays. At its worst, it simply revives the tired stereotype of the self-absorbed poet as the lead character in his own reverse bildungsroman--one in which the only character who matters is the very person whose development the reader cannot bring himself to care about.--Chris Pusateri, Jefferson Cty. P.L., CO

    Copyright 2011 Library Journal, LLC Used with permission.

  • Booklist

    September 15, 2011
    In his adroitly interiorized first novel, poet, National Book Award finalist, and Fulbright scholar Lerner depicts the panic, anguish, and strategies of deceit suffered and deployed by a young American poet on a fellowship in Madrid. Adam is massively insecure about his limited Spanish, his grandiose project, and his precarious mental equilibrium. He attempts to control his anxiety with an excess of pills, cigarettes, alcohol, hash, indolence, and lies. In spite of himself, he is befriended by gallery owner Arturo and his gorgeous, kind, and brainy sister, Teresa, a noted translator and poet. Adam practically moves in with Teresa but has sex with Isabel, bluffing his way through awkward situations. Lerner makes this tale of a nervous young artist abroad profoundly evocative by using his protagonist's difficulties with Spanish, fear of creativity, and mental instability to cleverly, seductively, and hilariously investigate the nature of language and storytelling, veracity and fraud. As Adam's private fears are dwarfed by terrorist train attacks, Lerner casts light on how we must constantly rework the narrative of our lives to survive and flourish.(Reprinted with permission of Booklist, copyright 2011, American Library Association.)

  • James Wood, The New Yorker "[A] subtle, sinuous, and very funny first novel. . . . [Leaving the Atocha Station] has a beguiling mixture of lightness and weight. There are wonderful sentences and jokes on almost every page. Lerner is attempting to capture something that most conventional novels, with their cumbersome caravans of plot and scene and "conflict," fail to do: the drift of thought, the unmomentous passage of undramatic life. . . ."
  • Gary Sernovitz, The New York Times Book Review "Ben Lerner's remarkable first novel . . . is a bildungsroman and meditation and slacker tale fused by a precise, reflective and darkly comic voice. It is also a revealing study of what it's like to be a young American abroad . . . Lerner is concerned with ineffability, but Adam Gordon (and the author) fight back with more than words . . . The ultimate product of Gordon's success is the novel itself."
  • Lorin Stein, The New York Review of Books "One of the funniest (and truest) novels I know of by a writer of his generation. . . . [A] dazzlingly good novel."
  • The Guardian "[A] remarkable first novel . . . intensely and unusually brilliant."
  • Paul Auster "Utterly charming. Lerner's self-hating, lying, overmedicated, brilliant fool of a hero is a memorable character, and his voice speaks with a music distinctly and hilariously all his own."
  • The Wall Street Journal "Leaving the Atocha Station is a marvelous novel, not least because of the magical way that it reverses the postmodernist spell, transmuting a fraudulent figure into a fully dimensional and compelling character."
  • The Daily Beast "Lerner's prose, at once precise and swerving, propels the book in lieu of a plot and creates an experience of something [main character Adam] Gordon criticizes more heavily plotted books of failing to capture: "the texture of time as it passed, life's white machine."
  • Publishers Weekly "[A] noteworthy debut . . . . Lerner has fun with the interplay between the unreliable spoken word and subtleties in speech and body language, capturing the struggle of a young artist unsure of the meaning or value of his art. . . . Lerner succeeds in drawing out the problems inherent in art, expectation, and communication."
  • Deb Olin Unferth, Bookforum "Ben Lerner's first novel, coming on the heels of three outstanding poetry collections, is a darkly hilarious examination of just how self-conscious, miserable, and absurd one man can be. . . . Lerner's writing [is] beautiful, funny, and revelatory."
  • Open Letters Monthly ". . . Leaving the Atocha Station is as much an apologia for poetry as it is a novel. Lerner's ability to accomplish both projects at once is a marvel. His sense of narrative forward motion and his penchant for rumination are kept in constant competition with one another, so that neither is allowed to keep the upper hand for long. Leaving the Atocha Station is a novel for poets, liars, and equivocators--that is, for aspects of us all. It is also a poem, dedicated to the gulf between self and self–ego and alter ego, "true me" and "false me," present self and outgrown past."
  • Joshua Cohen, The Faster Times "If Bolaño was yesterday's drug of choice--deluding us with youth, intoxicating us with a sense of literature's wilder, life-altering capacities--Lerner could be, should be, tomorrow's homegrown equivalent. . . . Leaving the Atocha Station is avant slackerism as its best. It's heartening to know that someone of my generation is writing with such heart, such head, and so personally."
  • Minneapolis Star Tribune "The first novel from Ben Lerner, a finalist for the National Book Award in poetry, explores with humor and depth what everyone assumes is OK to overlook. . . . Ben Lerner's phrases meander, unconcerned tourists, taking exotic day trips to surprising clauses before returning to their familiar hostels of subject and predicate. . . . [A]n honest, exciting account of what it's like to be a fairly regular guy in fairly regular circumstances . . . [and] somehow it's more incredible, and more modern a dilemma, than the explosives."
  • David Shields, Los Angeles Review of Books "I admire Ben's poetry, but I love to death his new book, Leaving the Atocha Station. Ben Lerner's novel . . . 'chronicles the endemic disease of our time: the difficulty of...
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