Leaving the Atocha Station

By: Ben Lerner
Fiction
2011
Subject Matter: Poets; Americans; Spain; Self-realization; Art and literature; Madrid
Rating: 4/5

Leaving the Atocha Station

On the surface, Leaving the Atocha Station is everything I typically hate: it’s a semi-autobiographical novel written by a poet about a whiny poet with self-effacing and self-destructive tendencies.

And yet I gave it a 4 out of 5!

Because… it’s really, really good.

Adam Gordon, the protagonist and aforementioned poet, is brilliantly written. His narrative is sometimes drug-induced, sometimes panic-induced, and sometimes stream of consciousness. And yet. AND YET. He is somehow relatable.

I GET Adam Gordon.

I feel him. On a really personal level.

And I am about as far from a poet as you can be.

Parts of this book are a little tedious. For instance, Adam has his internal debate about his own fraudulence approximately 14 times. But I think it’s only fair. Because a real human Adam would have that debate infinitely. It is tedious. Our own thoughts are sometimes tedious.

But don’t get me wrong. This book is not hyper realistic, or about what it means to be a human.

It’s funny and strange and nonrelatable and bizarre so many more times than it is true.

But I think you’ll like it.

It tries too hard because Adam tries too hard. It’s meta and frustrating and confusing because our internal dialogues are sometimes meta and frustrating and confusing.

It’s sort of about Adam’s response to living in a foreign country and experiencing a terrorist attack, but it’s more about Adam thinking about what his response to those things should or could or will be or might have been. It’s about him confronting the fact that everyone else isn’t just a character in a movie starring himself.

You don’t have to like poetry to like Ben Lerner‘s novel. Clearly.

You don’t have to like Spain to like this one. I’ve never been to Europe, much less Madrid.

You don’t have to know literature or poetry or Spanish poets in any depth. Adam doesn’t.

It’s just a good book. A book that’s deep enough to make you think but not so heavy that it wears on you.

 

*****

 

Suggestions:

(for books mentioned in Leaving the Atocha Station)

What Is Art? by Leo Tolstoy

Selected Poems by John Ashbery

The Collected Poems by Federico Garcia Lorca

Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes

(for more by Lerner)

10:04 by Ben Lerner

The Hatred of Poetry by Ben Lerner

The Lichtenberg Figures by Ben Lerner

Angle of Yaw by Ben Lerner

(for books with unique voices)

The Fortress of Solitude by Jonathan Lethem

The Crimson Petal and the White by Michel Faber

(for books about detachment and alcohol and Spain)

The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway

(for books about philosophy on a personal level, especially as it relates to literature)

A Fraction of the Whole by Steve Toltz

The Ghost Writer by Philip Roth

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