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Leaving the Atocha Station (2011)
by Ben Lerner
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I'm glad I read this several years ago, as my current willingness to read about difficult and oblivious white men is SUPER LOW. But at the time, I enjoyed the unreliable narrative aspect and then general meandering-ness of the story and lack of lessons being learned.
A book I loved and felt connected with on a deep level. The way the main character described his interactions with people carried a sense of real alienation, and a consciousness of that alienation, that I completely identified with. Lerner writes his character's social life so convincingly, so piercingly.
It was not an irreverent book, but there were moments of extreme whimsy, or perhaps just sharp randomness, that felt faithful to the amorphous condition of humans' personalities and their interactions. And I very much identified with how lost, purposeless and dependent the main character was. He handled philosophical questions in an intensely interesting way, provoking thoughts that I have about my own life constantly and about art and literature and poetry that I have also played with.
The writing was precise but moved in waves, like a real thought process -- propelled forward, idea after idea, by a "sheer directionality". The setting -- Madrid -- was only icing on the cake. A great book.
i hate how much i liked this book. everything about it is aggressively loathsome and it made me feel loathsome for liking it and relating to it. it's good.
Generally, I like Lerner's stories when I encounter one, but the agonizing self-consciousness of the protagonist (which maybe works in something shorter?) struck me as, perhaps, overdone. And yet
. . . who am I to say? What do I know? Was I agonizingly self conscious? Have I forgotten my own agonies? Yes and no. My discomforts took a different form and I never had an issue with drugs or alcohol, nor am I bipolar although, yeah, plenty of the uni sort of polar. (He hints at this but never clarifies--I guess to keep the novel from being classed a novel about a young bipolar poet abroad, the avoidance with which I can totally sympathize). Perhaps this IS a genuine experience of an unsure 20-something male, not yet able to manage responsibly, who has, without quite understanding why or even how, achieved success by winning a prestigious fellowship to Spain. No matter, he feels undeserving and fraudulent and often responds to kind gestures with whoppers, large and small. The thing about fiction is that you read in order to enter a different mind or person's reality, so I can't condemn this lad for his obsession with himself and his own actions (you soon learn most people couldn't say what you were wearing or saying five minutes after leaving you--and what a relief!). The lad is in Madrid, he's told the fellowship administrator a preposterous lie about his 'project' but really mostly smokes a lot of has and lies about reading Tolstoy . . . This is a novel of the 'nothing happens' variety where, in fact, a great deal of the not-melodramtic happens, some growing up mainly. I didn't love the novel, but I was engaged and occasionally amused or enlightened. I teeter between 3 1/2 and 4 stars (as if it matters) so take your pick. ***1/2 or is it ****?
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Wikipedia in English (2)
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. 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? Is poetry an essential art form, or merely a screen for the reader’s projections? A witness to the 2004 Madrid train bombings and their aftermath, does he participate in historic events or merely watch them pass him by?
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Melvil Decimal System (DDC)813.6Literature English (North America) American fiction 21st Century
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I thought it was interesting he would write prose, while his true expression is poetry. I did not enjoy his story or voice, although slowly learned to like the book overall based on his honesty and critical self-audit on all things.
It does have the dead-weight of a the Brooklyn metro-sexual tone of one bored intellectual who actually doesn't have many life experiences, while able to self-criticize as though they are major contributions to self and us all.
In that sense, I was disinterested; however wanted to broaden my mind. Which this book achieved in doing. I ended up seeing his perspective and being less irritated by people holding this personality type....
Not because i am sympathetic, but do enjoy reading the mind-conversation.