Book clinic: what postmodernist writers should I try?

An admirer of Ben Lerner’s highly praised new novel looks for other avant garde avenues to explore

Q: I love Ben Lerner. Can you please recommend some other good postmodernist writers?
Keana Sierra, 23, Luthier, Norway

A: Alex Preston, an author, journalist and Observer critic, writes:

I’m so glad you like Lerner. His latest, The Topeka School, seems to me to be doing something really fascinating: merging the playful po-mo metafictiveness of his first two novels with something more serious, authentic and heartfelt – uplit with a beret and black turtleneck, if you will. It reminded me of David Foster Wallace at his best – writing that demands something of the head and the heart. Infinite Jest might look weighty, but if you enjoyed The Topeka School, I think you’d love it. For a shorter fix, try Brief Interviews With Hideous Men.

I’m currently reading Jenny Offill’s Weather (published next month by Granta), which is glorious. She’s such a fine, funny writer, her observations shot through with luminous intelligence and emotional insight. Her last novel, Dept of Speculation, is also superb.

Other writers who occupy a Ben Lerner-shaped space in my mind: Renata Adler (try Speedboat), Teju Cole (Open City), Roberto Bolaño (The Savage Detectives), Sally Rooney (but you’ve read her already, right?). You might also pick up David Shields’s Reality Hunger, a book I love and loathe in equal measure; it seems to me to speak to Lerner’s project and the current state of the avant garde in interesting ways.

Finally, I offer you Geoff Dyer, without whom I’m not sure Ben Lerner could exist. I like Dyer’s nonfiction best – Yoga for People Who Can’t Be Bothered to Do It, White Sands and the mesmerising Out of Sheer Rage. His novel Jeff in Venice, Death in Varanasi is a scream. Enjoy!

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Alex Preston

The GuardianTramp

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