This week I read The Topeka School, by Ben Lerner
I’m pretty sure that tornado was following me up I-35 after taking out Andover, KS (and Destiny’s porch) as I was heading to the state forensics tournament.
So this book is primarily about masculinity and privilege. It’s also about high school debate and forensics. But then I repeat myself. Although, I too find myself twirling a pen every time I’m waiting for the next note to take. I also did speed drills with a pen in my mouth – although my material of choice was R.E.M. songs and Dr. Seuss books instead of Tupac. The character of Peter Evanson is an expy of a debater who was a couple of years ahead of me.
This one took a couple of times to really get where he was going. The constant changes of perspective can trip you up (I was listening to an audio book). But the time jumps allow for the character to have the experience, then process it at a later date. It takes place from the 70s to today, and focuses on Adam Gordon, a talented debater and extemporaneous speaker. It also focuses on his parents, and a classmate, Darren.
Adam is rich, Darren is poor. Adam’s problems aren’t treated with biofeedback, Darren’s are ignored until he explodes. You get the feeling that Adam would have a different result from the cue ball than Darren does. And it is all preordained. Darren has always thrown the cue ball, Adam has always won the debate tournament.
It’s a lyrical novel, with frequent detours into random speech, but there’s a pattern to it. All eyez on me, purple cow, debate phrases. In this world, language is the sign of privilege. Adam has it, Darren does not. And they always will.