Leaving the Atocha Station by Ben Lerner

Ben Lerner Leaving the Atocha Station

Leaving the Atocha Station follows a young American man abroad in Madrid on a Fellowship to write a series of contemporary poems based on the Spanish Civil War. This project he divides into five parts we never see as we follow his inner journey fueled by obsessions with art, women, travel, social relationships, and general anxiety. His habit of embellishing things in order to observe what effect such behavior might have on those around him, to his amazement and frustration, effects him most of all. This emotional sleight of hand permeates the perspective—there is no “plot” per se—of the book, as the character finds that when one allows an Other the opportunity to also embellish their life story—in order to feign interest in them—this post-projection may or may not overlap with virtual version(s) of his own experience. Eventually, a many-layered dance of dual deception may result in the desired consummate act, which immediately disappoints the self, the Other, or both, or will someday, when it fails or falls short of the ideal that prompted a suspension of belief in the first place. Thereafter (if indeed the ruse has not failed prior to the act) by stages self-reflection reveals only pale shades of the deep coloration the imagined relationship originally promised. The juxtaposition of fantasy colliding and competing with reality runs right up against a random terrorist act that confounds the young man: should he participate directly in History as it unfolds, or simply abstract the event as he imagines it into an emotional response resulting in art as artifice, as he has attempted by way of idiosyncratic survival instinct in his personal relationships? This is the first novel by Topeka, Kansas born Ben Lerner, who has three previous collections of poems to his credit including National Book Award finalist Angle of Yaw (Copper Canyon Press, 2006). Well written and evenly paced, this novel explores the psychological nuances of a gifted young person confronting the multitude of conflicting intellectual responses available to interpret the often confusing and unpredictable possibilities of human experience.


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