Oh, fuck. Shit. Oh, no. No no no. NO!
Ben Lerner is now dead to me. Although I have never met him (I don't want to meet you, Ben, so stop texting), and just recently learned his name (which is a dumb name: Lerner? Try me when you're Ben Knower), this author and I are no longer on speaking terms. His debut novel, Leaving the Atocha Station, will work well as a paperweight for my stack of unpublished pages. I have promised myself that I will not recommend the book to anyone. If anyone recommends it to me, I will coolly say, Yeah, I might pick that up for a bathroom reader. If anyone raves about it, I'll excuse myself to vomit.
Leaving the Atocha Station, unbeknownst to its writer, is the book I should have written. I was robbed! Lerner must have crept into my computer and read my unrevised drivel and polished it up a bit, added some grammar, and sent it to Coffee House Press. He must have been tailing me to bars and coffee shops in Cambridge, MA, listening to the many witticisms and armchair philosophies that regularly dazzle and resonate with my crew of twenty- and thirty-somethings, living in contemporary America in the contemporary world. What other way do you explain how the author has so eloquently, so effortlessly put into printed words all the thoughts, feelings, neuroses, and observations I have had, that my friends have had, that have shaped our lives?
Call the cops, friends! Ben Lerner is a thief! Check the security settings on your laptop; put your hands to the napkins on which you've sketched drunken moments of clarity; make sure your notebooks and diaries have little locks on them, because Lerner will steal them otherwise. Moreover, he'll take your thoughts and desires and fears and rework them into coherent and profound sentences that will comprise a book.
Here are some examples of the shit he's stolen from me and likely from you too:
After having a real insight about a poem he's working on, the narrator, Adam, reaches for his notebook to jot a note. He is on a train with his girlfriend. He thinks: "I was unashamed to pretend to be inspired... but that I just believed myself inspired shamed me." That's my thought! Things that you think are cool or moody or dynamic are not cool when you actually do them without thinking about them, without simply acting, seeing yourself as if through a lens. Who hasn't fantasized on the way to the bar about a hip, sensual man or woman asking you what you are so engrossed in reading? Who hasn't wished for that moment when you turn to that guy or gal and say, "Oh, I'm reading [Infinite Jest, Gravity's Rainbow, The Tunnel], and I'm really loving/understanding the shit out of it"? But then, one day, you're actually really into V, and you notice that you're just someone really into V, sitting at a bar, and you immediately want not to be of the disposition who drinks at three in the afternoon and gets really into V, because you spot a clearly near-illiterate person of your same gender surrounded by hip, sensual people of the opposite gender (switch the words "opposite" and "same" to get the homosexual version of this circumstance, which is just as likely). Ben Lerner just said what we all think, but he did it better.
After the bombing at the Atocha Station, Madrid is abuzz with activity—mostly people in the street chanting, holding signs, lighting candles, marching. A friend tells Adam that they are going to go protest and then have a party. Then this: "I asked if those were the same thing, protesting and partying." Do you know how many people I wished were reading over my shoulder at that passage? Several! Several people whom I had suspected of seeing rallies and protests and political events as social events. That was my thought, Ben!
Look: it's clear that Ben Lerner will not stop sneaking into our journals and diaries and unfinished story drafts and unpublished manuscripts and minds to loot and refine our thoughts into literary gold. The only thing we can do is stand together and say, We will not read your next book, Ben! I, for one, refuse to talk to him anymore, as I have stated, until he returns my thoughts and feelings and fears and observations in their original, disheveled, questionably grammatical, half-baked forms.
I don't feel jealous. I feel violated.
Die, Ben Lerner!
Long live Ben Lerner!