In The Topeka School, readers meet the illustrious psychotherapists of the Gordon family, their son Adam, and members of their community in Topeka, Kansas. Author Ben Lerner introduces the doctors Gordon, Adam’s parents, separately, and also reveals a great deal about their back story as a couple. Young Adam grows up throughout the book, transforming from an anxious young man who is active in competitive debate to a doctor himself.
When I read a book I enjoy getting lost in it, and arguably, The Topeka School is tough to dive into. The author is loquacious and fond of unusual words (or else all of his narrative characters are, which is a fair counterargument given their levels of education). This is a mid-90s book which heavily explores the personal and professional dynamics of a unique family, where the mother is very well known and the son is attempting to live up to the high expectations of his parents.
Going into the book, I had an idea that it wasn’t exactly a beach read, but I also thought it would be easier to become immersed in than I originally found it. Many threads were available that were never fully pulled, from the lost soul Darren who wanders in and out of the story to friendships Adam had with his high school buddies, and the ending of his mother’s relationship with her own best friend.
Given that I only recently finished reading Megan Phelps-Roper’s book Unfollow, I found her family’s featured role in The Topeka School to be an interesting nugget. In the end, I don’t recommend this book but I also don’t recommend anyone specifically stay away from it. If a young man’s development throughout the 90’s is interesting to you, then by all means read it. I learned some new words, enjoyed the highly nuanced character development, and thought it was fine.