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Leaving the Atocha Station Kindle Edition
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One of the best books of 2011. "...intensely and unusually brilliant." - The Guardian (UK)
One of the best books of 2011. - iTunes
One of the best books from indie publishers in 2011. "[Leaving the Atocha Station] is remarkable for its ability to be simultaneously warm, ruminative, heart-breaking, and funny. Which is all to say that this book is suddenly one of my very favorites and I have a serious crush on Ben Lerner's brain." - Shelf Unbound
One of the Best Fiction Books of 2011. "[Lerner] writes so candidly and exquisitely...a marvelous novel...fully dimensional and compelling..." - The Wall Street Journal
"[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...[and] 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." - Publishers Weekly
"Well written and full of captivating ideas..." - Library Journal
"...profoundly evocative...[Lerner] cleverly, seductively, and hilariously investigates the nature of language and storytelling, veracity and fraud..." - Booklist
"...subtle, sinuous, and very funny...beguiling..." - New Yorker
"...explores with humor and depth what everyone assumes is OK to overlook...incredible..." - Star Tribune
"Leaving the Atocha Station proves [Lerner is] a droll and perceptive observer, and a first-rate novelist." - New York Journal of Books
"...one of the most compelling books...flip, hip, smart, and very funny...unlike any other novel-reading experience..." - NPR
"...seductively intelligent and stylish writing, mercilessly comic in the ways it strips the creative ego bare. It will be fascinating to see where Lerner goes with his talent next." - The Independent (UK)
Winner of the Believer Book Award. "...hilarious and sensitive novel...dense and full of life and feeling." - The Believer
"Lerner's prose, at once precise and swerving, propels the book..." - The Daily Beast
"...darkly hilarious...a quintessential modernist expat novel...fiercely contemporary...beautiful, funny, and revelatory." - Book Forum
"This is far from the first novel about a young American finding himself in Europe or a young writer grappling with the problem of authenticity, but Leaving the Atocha Station transcends these tropes when Adam Gordon witnesses the Madrid train bombings of 2004, brutal reminders that the digital age is not defined only by problems of authenticity and language but also by mass violence and terror. Lerner's novel is timely and relevant and, most importantly, a damn good book." - Hey Small Press
"...a hilarious and insightful account of an artist's development in the digital age." - The Outlet
"I enjoyed it so much I read it twice (and laughed out loud both times)." - Lorin Stein, The Paris Review
Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.
The first phase of my research involved waking up weekday mornings in a barely furnished attic apartment on Calle de las Huertas, the first apartment I’d looked at after arriving in Madrid, or letting myself be woken by the noise from La Plaza Santa Ana, failing to assimilate that noise fully into my dream, then putting on the rusty stovetop espresso machine and rolling a spliff while I waited for the coffee. When the coffee was ready I opened the skylight, which was just big enough for me to crawl through if I stood on the bed, and drank my espresso and smoked on the roof overlooking the plaza where tourists were congregating with their guide books on the metal tables and the accordion player was plying his trade. In the distance: the palace and long lines of cloud. Next my project required dropping myself back through the skylight, shitting, taking a shower, my white pills, and getting dressed. Then I took my bag, which contained a bilingual edition of Lorca’s Collected Poems, my two notebooks, pocket dictionary, John Ashbery’s Selected Poems, drugs, and left for the Prado.
From my apartment I walked down Huertas, nodding to the street cleaners in their lime green jumpsuits, crossed El Paseo del Prado, entered the museum, which was only a couple of Euros with my international scholar ID, and proceeded directly to room 58, where I positioned myself in front of Roger Van der Weyden’s Descent from the Cross. I was usually standing before the painting within forty-five minutes of waking and so the hash and caffeine and sleep were still competing in my system as I faced the nearly life-sized figures and awaited equilibrium. Mary is forever falling to the ground in a faint; the blues of her robes are unsurpassed in Flemish painting. Her posture is almost an exact echo of Jesus’; Nicodemus and a helper hold his apparently weightless body in the air. C.1435; 220 x 262 cm. Oil on oak paneling.
A turning point in my project: I arrived one morning at the Van der Weyden to find someone had taken my place. He was standing exactly where I normally stood and for a moment I was startled, as if beholding myself beholding the painting, although he was thinner and darker than I. I waited for him to move on, but he didn’t. I wondered if he had observed me in front of the Descent and if he was now standing before the painting hoping to see whatever it was I must have been seeing. I was irritated and tried to find another canvas for my morning ritual, but I was too accustomed to the dimensions and blues of the Descent to accept a substitute. I was about to abandon room 58 when the man broke suddenly into tears, convulsively catching his breath. Was he, I wondered, just facing the wall to hide his face as he dealt with whatever grief he’d brought into the museum? Or was he having a profound experience of art?
I had long worried that I was incapable of having a profound experience of art and I had trouble believing that anyone had, at least anyone I knew. I was intensely suspicious of people who claimed a poem or painting or piece of music changed their life,” especially since I had often known these people before and after their experience and could register no change. Although I claimed to be a poet, although my supposed talent as a writer had earned me my fellowship in Spain, I tended to find lines of poetry beautiful only when I encountered them quoted in prose, in the essays my professors had assigned in college, where the line breaks were replaced with slashes, so that what was communicated was less a particular poem than the echo of poetic possibility. Insofar as I was interested in the arts, I was interested in the disconnect between my experience of actual artworks and the claims made on their behalf; the closest I’d come to having a profound experience of art was probably the experience of this distance, a profound experience of the absence of profundity.
Once the man calmed down, which took at least two minutes, he wiped his face and blew his nose with a handkerchief he then returned to his pocket. On entering room 57 which was empty except for a lanky and sleepy guard, the man walked immediately up to the small votive image of Christ attributed to San Leocadio; green tunic, red robes, expression of deep sorrow. I pretended to take in other paintings while looking sidelong at the man as he considered the little canvas. For a long minute he was quiet and then he again released a sob. This startled the guard into alertness and our eyes met, mine saying that this had happened in the other gallery, the guard’s communicating his struggle to determine whether the man was crazyperhaps the kind of man who would damage a painting, spit on it or tear it from the wall or scratch it with a keyor if the man was having a profound experience of art. Out came the handkerchief and the man walked calmly into 56, stood before The Garden of Earthly Delights, considered it calmly, then totally lost his shit. Now there were three guards in the room, the lanky guard from 57, the short woman who always guarded 56, and an older guard with improbably long silver hair who must have heard the most recent outburst from the hall. The one or two other museum-goers in 56 were deep in their audio tours and oblivious to the scene unfolding before the Bosch.
- ASIN : B00BVTUYXW
- Publisher : Coffee House Press (August 23, 2011)
- Publication date : August 23, 2011
- Language : English
- File size : 891 KB
- Text-to-Speech : Enabled
- Screen Reader : Supported
- Enhanced typesetting : Enabled
- X-Ray : Not Enabled
- Word Wise : Enabled
- Print length : 118 pages
- Lending : Not Enabled
- Best Sellers Rank: #65,988 in Kindle Store (See Top 100 in Kindle Store)
- Customer Reviews:
Top reviews from the United States
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Baudelaire envisioned the flâneur as someone who drops himself into the life swarming around him (what Lerner nicely calls the "white machine"), not taking part but passionately witnessing it, in order to create his art. Lerner's stand-in, Adam Gordon, walks plenty of city streets and does witness the terrorist attack on Atocha Station and, only days later, the national elections that galvanized Spain in 2004, but the bulk of the book is spent pondering a lack of feeling in himself that even he finds strange. He doesn't feel pain but, instead, "the shape of pain." He is almost unbearably self-conscious and keeps bumping up against an old-world (often feminine) sensibility for which he is no match. He attempts to give blood after the station's bombing but, due to his drug-taking, is turned down--even his blood is no good! Despite all the evidence that he is not human, of course he does end up feeling and living; he can't help it. The lyric becomes the dramatic.
Top reviews from other countries
What Lerner’s novel more obviously takes stock of are the blandest aspects of the poet-narrator’s day-to-day life in Madrid, including his skittish encounters with that capital’s younger, more progressive, literary set. Hailing from Providence USA, Adam, the novel’s main protagonist (and First Person narrator) has appeared in the foreign capital as a young American poet of some reputation and still greater promise. While in Madrid he must be seen to make plausible use of the generous research funding that his track-record and research proposal have earned him. Thanks to this fellowship he is free, for a certain period, to advance his poetry within a setting conducive to bi-lingual research and cultural exchange. Aware, however, that he may be unable to deliver the project he had over-ambitiously proposed, Adam studiously avoids foundation personnel and peer fellows; ignoring even their e-mails. He nevertheless manages (if reinforced by tranquillisers, drink, dope, and prodigious intakes of nicotine and caffeine) to weave his way into the capital’s contemporary art and poetry scene. As the days go by he gathers a widening acquaintance, and even entertains potential love interests (as though, for once, he were oblivious to the risks of mistranslation).
As to the smooth-running word-stream that embodies Lerner’s tale, could this betray a certain emotional detachment? For, notwithstanding actual content, what one notices most is the unmistakable whiff of First-Person-singular self-absorption. Whereas detachment would doubtless be routine in the case of a young, averagely amoral male let loose in a foreign capital, detachment is no less a trait of the post-modern poet who scarcely acknowledges his own creative process or product. These he regards as mere outliers; less answerable to themselves than to a far-reaching constellation of super-ordinate structures wherein material and social conditions are conjoined with linguistic practices and forms. How, then, could such a poet view the ‘autonomous creative persona’ as anything but the outmoded obsession of a bygone era?
In truth, apart from his diet of reading, and certain other reflective rituals that he schedules into each day, Adam’s accustomed routine is largely a round of banalities and bouts of free-floating anxiety. Indeed, courting the attention of peer-literati is not the least banal aspect of his sojourn in Madrid. To hype his literary persona in likely venues around town might strike even him as hollow; but the availability of beautiful, highly articulate young women somehow aids his concentration. Nevertheless, conceding power - even to this extent - causes misgivings that lead to episodes of crushing self-doubt.
Will breaking-news of a major terrorist atrocity (and its city-wide aftermath) jolt our hero out of his cycle of appetite, anxiety, doubt and defeat? Might headlong conviction (even engagement) now issue forth, phoenix-like, from the ashes of emotional incompetence? - Possibly so; - possibly not. Poems themselves might sometimes arrive in moments of doubt - and, indeed, serve as its legitimate expression. But how might ‘salvaging doubt from doubt’ seem to square with the poet’s own longing for validation; and how might this meet the expectations of sponsors? Meanwhile, the self-congratulatory fervour of a satisfied translator might upstage the poet’s own wavering belief in his original-if-provisional offering. Perhaps terms like ‘original’ and ‘translation’ cease to have meaning. Especially in this social media era, can anyone truly be anyone - or anywhere truly anywhere - given the perverse pre-eminence of language itself; - its infamously hazardous transmissions, uncertain locus and provenance, un-policed borders, unforeseeable trajectories and incalculable reach?
Perhaps it is the sheer theatricality of his privileged set-up in Madrid that emboldens Adam (on more than one occasion) to lie to his new acquaintances about his home life in the USA. When (possibly due to his own carelessness) these deceptions are exposed Adam promptly apologises, only to spin some mendacious yarn by way of explanation. Perhaps these false trails are a way of milking sympathy. Or might a total nervous breakdown be in prospect?
Yet, Adam’s penchant for lying serves to remind the reader that absolutely nothing he narrates should be taken on trust. Indeed, why might we expect the characters of a novel to be more reliable, understandable or predictable than randomness itself; - or more worthy of respect than false memories or mere hallucinations? No less remarkable is the author’s tendency to toy with passing descriptions in a way that deliberately fudges the matter, or leaves it just as vague as if it had been left alone in the first place. This slovenly effect is the more distancing for being consciously counter-descriptive.
If knowing what we expect from a novel might be a key to self-knowledge, less certain are our chances of understanding others. Some protagonists do understand, however, - even from the very outset - that the poet’s deceptions are just that: outright lies. But their rare perspicacity is revealed to the reader only at a later stage and (so to speak) long after the fact. Might this suggest that, not only the reader, but also the narrator (indeed, author) had been doubly hoodwinked at the time?! – Moreover, in the course of time, it may seem that Adam himself has been subtly misled in a manner that quite outclasses his own poor attempts at deception.
If the scheme of this novel comes down to the age-old axiom that ‘experience will teach us what we need to learn’ readers might not be surprised to discover that this regimen entails raw disappointments and bitter truths. Might some species of mellow optimism emerge as the end-product of this objectifying process? - Perhaps so. But, only by submitting to this curriculum can we ever hope to find out!
Rather than exulting writing, as too many books about writing do, Leaving the Atocha Station is almost disdainful of it. Certainly our narrator-writer cuts a truly pathetic figure - a mooching stoner who's found a way to put off getting a job a little longer, who lies to get women into bed and struggles even then. On one level this story can be read as the uplifting coming of age of the stereotypical millennial man-child, as our lead gradually realises his genuine talent for poetry and accept that it might be a legitimate way for him to live. Alternately one can see this as a Lolita-style case of sympathy for the devil.
But the point that occupies most of the book is whether such ambiguity is itself fakery, pretending profundity by saying nothing. It's a trick I find all too common in literary novels - the unwillingness to essay a concrete position, especially on moral questions - but here I find it forgivable, because the novel itself is the answer - not in a self-impressed, clever-clever way, but in a simple and powerful demonstration that this stuff does, ultimately, mean something, even if we feel like we brought the meaning ourselves. Or so it felt to me.