‘Leaving The Atocha Station’ By Ben Lerner

Leaving the Atocha StationIt’s a great book. Well written. That’s obvious.

But I’m too told for it. Ten years, even, but especially twenty years ago (though you’d have to take out the references to the internet; maybe you could put in some stuff about AOL keywords, instead), I would have loved this book and carried it with me and made it into a shibboleth.

A young graduate from Brown University goes to Madrid on a fellowship to write poetry. He takes white pills for an unspecified psychological distress (I suspect depression or bipolar, but Lerner wisely doesn’t say). He smokes a lot of hash and drinks a lot more than the forty year old me is capable of drinking.

But things rang true. He has relationships with two young women (girls?) and I have experienced myself that feeling where suddenly what you thought was something is actually… nothing? Something? Certainly, less than one thought. Isobel (incidentally, the name of Nicholas Jenkins’ wife in the A Dance to the Music of Time novels) reveals that she hadn’t considered their relationship… monogamous. Her real boyfriend was just temporarily out of the picture. Or maybe not (later, some related statements are found untrue; or not; no one ever gets a chance to interrogate). Another, Teresa, is more aloof and the narrator (Adam; did I fail to mention that?) never does figure out what their relationship is (if it is more than some occasional fooling around that stops short of sex).

The novel is also partly about Adam becoming comfortable with the idea of himself as a poet with worthwhile things to say (in poetry, at least). But it is mostly about the pretentiousness of youth and myths we create around ourselves, while at the same time, we are confounded by the self protecting myths other create around themselves.

The ending comes across as almost a deux ex machina of success, except that the impression is of something too knowing. Lerner, if not Adam, seems to know that the happy ending is too pat to be come true in the way that the narrator envisions things unfolding beyond the last page.

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