10:04 (Ben Lerner)

Article by mark

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10:04: A Novel Cover Image
ISBN: 9781250081339
Availability: Not On Our Shelves. Usually arrives in 7-10 Days due to Covid-19 shipping delays.
Published: Picador - October 13th, 2015

The first page of Ben Lerner’s 10:04 begins, “In what would become the opening scene...” It leads you to ask: is this the opening scene? Or is the opening scene coming later, after the explanation of the opening scene? Don’t be alarmed. This is merely Ben Lerner’s second novel 10:04, a fantastic, semi-autobiographical story based in the here-and-now, yet strangely other. 10:04 is knowingly meta-fictional, astute at playing with the different levels of reality, while still remaining a thoughtful and moving story.

10:04’s main thread takes place in New York City, following the narrator as he wrestles with writing his next novel after securing a six-figure advance for his second. He has been diagnosed with a potentially life-threatening heart condition, and his best friend has just asked him to help her conceive a child. This is the skeleton of the plot--but there is so much more: discussions about art, tropical storms heading toward Manhattan, and a passage at a writer’s colony in Marfa, Texas, where the narrator (contemplating Walt Whitman nursing the wounded of the Civil War) consoles a young man who accidentally overdosed on ketamine. Lerner blends all of these disparate strands together seamlessly.

10:04 is a book of large ideas, of the unspeakable fears we all carry, of the notion that this world is fast becoming something too tragic to comprehend. Toward the end of the novel, the narrator writes: “I didn’t say that our society could not, in its present form, go on, or that I believed the storms were in part man-made, or that poison was coming at us from a million points, although all of that was to my mind plainly true. And that my mood was regulated by drugs. And that sometimes the language was a jumble of marks.”

In Ben Lerner’s hands this jumble of words makes for a compelling and startling novel. I’m already anticipating his third.

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