Friday, August 19, 2011

Friday Freebie: Leaving the Atocha Station by Ben Lerner

Congratulations to Carol Wong, winner of last week's Friday Freebie, Lola, California by Edie Meidav.

This week's book giveaway is Leaving the Atocha Station by Ben Lerner which has just been released by Coffee House Press.  This is Lerner's first novel, though he has published several books of poetry and was a finalist for a National Book Award.  Electric Literature had plenty of nice things to say about Leaving the Atocha Station:
Ben Lerner’s first novel features a narrative voice both detached and almost painfully forthcoming, photographs with odd and often humorous captions, and hash, a surprising amount of hash. The novel is narrated by Adam Gordon, a young American poet on fellowship in Madrid, where he’s supposedly researching a project on the literary legacy of the Spanish Civil War. The first phase of his research consists of spending mornings at the Prado, writing in the park, fantasizing about becoming fluent in Spanish by mastering Don Quixote, watching online videos of “terrible things,” smoking the aforementioned hash and re-reading John Ashbery. 
All the while Adam struggles with a pervasive sense of fraudulence, or a fear of being exposed. He tries to hide this fraudulence by lying to manipulate the perceptions of others and communicating in discreet morsels of insight that suggest a profound interior life. His deliberate, analytical voice makes his confessions more humorous and unsettling. Early on he says that his mother is dead to gain the sympathy of an attractive woman, and implies that his father is a heartless tyrant. (“As I said this, I thought of my dad patiently trying to get a spider to crawl from the carpet onto a piece of paper so he could escort it safely from house to yard.”) For much of the novel he takes advantage of his poor Spanish, allowing others to assign “a plurality of possible profound meanings” to his gestures and fragmented speech. On a trip to Granada with Isabel, a woman he’s dating, Adam pretends to take notes so she’ll imagine he’s preoccupied with brilliant observations. That his fear of being seen as a fraud causes him to behave with extraordinary fraudulence accounts for much of the humor in this (often very funny) novel.  [Read the full review]

Paul Auster also dolloped a heaping helping of this praise on the novel: "Utterly charming. Lerner's self-hating, lying, overmedicated, brilliant fool of a hero is a memorable character, and his voice speaks with a music distinctly and hilariously all his own."

If you'd like a chance at winning a copy of Leaving the Atocha Station, all you have to do is answer this ridiculousy-easy question:

What's the motto of Coffee House Press?  (Hint: scroll to the bottom of their home page)

Email your answer to

Put FRIDAY FREEBIE in the e-mail subject line.  One entry per person, please.  Please e-mail me the answer, rather than posting it in the comments section.  Despite its name, the Friday Freebie runs all week long and remains open to entries until midnight on Aug. 25--at which time I'll draw the winning name.  I'll announce the lucky reader on Aug. 26.

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