Adam Gordon is a brilliant, if highly unreliable, young American poet on a prestigious fellowship in Madrid, struggling to establish his sense of self and his relationship to art. Instead of following the dictates of his fellowship, Adam's 'research' becomes a meditation on the possibility of the genuine in the arts and beyond: are his relationships with the people he meets in Spain as fraudulent as he fears his poems are? Is poetry an essential art form, or merely a screen for the reader's projections? A witness to the 2004 Madrid train bombings and their aftermath, does he participate in historic events or merely watch them pass him by?
©2011 Ben Lerner (P)2011 Dreamscape Media
"[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)
"[P]rofoundly evocative.... [Lerner] cleverly, seductively, and hilariously investigates the nature of language and storytelling, veracity and fraud." (Booklist)
I loved this book & I’m not sure why. I think part of it is the language (the author is a poet), the other part is how believable the main character is as a human being.
Adam has a serious case of imposter syndrome, and his way of dealing with this is sometimes to lie, try to look or sound mysterious (I'm not sure how well that actually works for him), or pop anxiety pills. His lies are painful not least because he’s absolute rubbish at remembering that he lied at all. He’s terrified the people around him will see him as a fraud. He’s uncomfortable, we’re uncomfortable but the people around him in the book seem to be completely fine with it all, although he ascribes to them a higher wisdom than is likely. He thinks he's a fraud as a person & as a poet & neither of these seem likely. He certainly puts too much meaning in to his interactions with others & overthinks things.
A lot of this book is us spending time in Adam's head. His perspective is definitely warped though so we see some things he doesn't. He's a painful character (in the sense of cringeworthy) but he's incredibly human & like cellophane - at times we see right through.
The narration is excellent. Initially I was bothered by the monotone of the author's voice, the flattened affect, but getting further into the book this is the perfect voice for Adam.
The author wrote beautifully about that weird place of understanding enough of the language and culture to pass as fluency and then never be quite sure of what you heard, said, or took place. For any of us that have been there , it was beautifully done: did he say this or that? Was it future or past? what did I just say? A story that might be ho hum takes and humor and sadness from this perspective.
I loved that the reader was the author, He made it rich with his feelings and confusion. The emotions were so heart felt.
I recommend this to anyone who has lived abroad or travelled knowing the languge just enough to get into trouble looking fluent.
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