In the last year, the narrator of 10:04 has enjoyed unexpected literary success, has been diagnosed with a potentially fatal heart condition, and has been asked by his best friend to help her conceive a child, despite his dating a rising star in the visual arts. In a New York of increasingly frequent super storms and political unrest, he must reckon with his biological mortality, the possibility of a literary afterlife, and the prospect of (unconventional) fatherhood in a city that might soon be under water. Exploring sex, friendship, medicine, memory, art, and politics, 10:04 is both a riveting work of fiction and a brilliant examination of the role fiction plays in our lives.
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A novel worth reading
A couple of things. First is that I completely disagree with the other reviewer. He sort of looked past the writing and was more interested in trying to ascribe what was and wasn’t from Ben Lerner’s real life. Anyone interested in fiction knows that is unfair. Maybe Lerner invites the distraction given the narrative ambiguity about where the novel actually comes from. In any case, it’s beside the point and the most dull reaction you can have to sit and write a review guessing what might be the real Ben Lerner. Who cares?
I admit it took more than a minute for me to get into the novel. In retrospect, I’m not even sure when it fully had me or if it ever fully had me. it’s not for everyone. It’s intellectual. It can be dry. And there is a level of personal and philosophical self absorption that makes sense in context, but will piss off some people who have a narrow sense of what it means to be humble.
A big part of Lerner’s novel is dissecting how an artist processes life material to his art, which is by far the most interesting part. I suspect there is some autobiography in there and some completely made up stuff. Some recent history in NYC. It’s a stew of things. If you’re interested in a plot heavy journey where a character finds answers to flaws and changes forever, you probably won’t like this novel (although aspects of that kind of journey are in here).
If you ever tried to write a story or a novel, if you are a literary person, you’ll find something to latch onto here. It’s worthwhile. Literary. And I’m glad I read it. That’s about all. Don’t expect Ben Lerner’s autobiography though.
- Bradley P. Valentine
Too Much of Himself