Sunday, April 1, 2012

Leaving the Atocha Station by Ben Lerner

A nervous young poet is paralyzed by self consciousness

I was disappointed in this short novel, although I thought the sentences were beautifully crafted and that I really felt and understood the narrator’s emotions. The story is about Adam Gordon, a young award winning poet, who helplessly fritters away the precious months of his highly prized fellowship by wandering around Madrid, smoking hash and feeling self conscious. Incredibly self conscious. He falls into perhaps one sided relationships with two nearly interchangeable Spanish women. In a way, it’s a story of not exactly knowing what is going on since Adam is not quite fluent in Spanish and is unsure most of the time what people are saying (about him). Then a real thing happens, a tragic thing – the 2004 Madrid train bombings. But the bombings are for Adam merely another excuse to feel self conscious and wonder about his chances of landing the girl(s). Increased? Diminished? This tale of yet another over entitled American never takes that sharp leftward turn into transcendence that would make its reading worthwhile. The stakes remain low throughout.  Adam and the reader remain neurosis bound on earth.

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