2012 fiction finalist

Ben Lerner | Leaving the Atocha Station

Photo of authorAbout the author
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 in Poetry, a Fulbright Scholar in Spain, and a Howard Foundation Fellow. In 2011 he became the first American to win the Preis der Stadt Münster für Internationale Poesie. His debut novel, Leaving the Atocha Station, was named one of the best books of the year by The New Yorker, The Guardian, The New Statesmen, The Boston Globe, The Wall Street Journal, and New York Magazine, among many others. He teaches in the writing program at Brooklyn College.

About the book
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?

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.

Critics / Reviews
“[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. . . .  But it is  one of the paradoxes of this cunning book that what might seem a  skeptically postmodern comedy is also an earnestly old-fashioned seeker  of the real—that other thing.”  — James Wood, The New Yorker

“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.” 
— Gary Sernovitz, The New York Times Book Review

“One of the funniest (and truest) novels I know of by a writer of his generation. . . . [A] dazzlingly good novel.” 
— Lorin Stein, The New York Review of Books

“Adam should be insufferable company, but Mr. Lerner, whose previous books are poetry collections, writes so candidly and exquisitely about Adam’s falseness that the character comes to seem lovably errant. . . . 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 Wall Street Journal

“Flip, hip, smart, and very funny . .  .  [R]eading it was unlike any other novel-reading experience I’ve had for a long time.”  — Maureen Corrigan, NPR’s “Fresh Air with Terry Gross”

“[Leaving the Atocha Station is] hilarious and cracklingly intelligent, fully alive and original in every  sentence, and abuzz with the feel of our late-late-modern moment. . . .  — Jonathan Franzen in The Guardian’s Books of the Year 2011

“[A] remarkable first novel . . . intensely and unusually brilliant.”  — The Guardian