Sunday, May 31, 2015

Review: "10:04" by Ben Lerner

10:04, the second novel of writer Ben Lerner, is the best kind of novel to end the first half of my reading list for 2015, but it is also, even more so than Tom Perrotta’s Bad Haircut, the most surprising book I have read all year. I had my misgivings coming in, thinking it was going to be a little too experimental for my taste: little more than a temperamental artist cannibalizing his own life for fiction. But my thoughts changed a little when it was favorable compared to the debut novel of one of my favorites, Paul Auster and his brilliant New York Trilogy. While it is a little different than that novel, this is still an amazingly inventive and thought-provoking book, providing candid looks into the mysteries of everyday life while presenting a picture of New York City that is completely unique, much like Auster’s novel did over a quarter of a century ago. And while Lerner does tend to cannibalize his own life for this novel (or at least it seems like he does), it is never exploitative, and acts more like an act of brutal self extraction instead of a painful self reflection, much like Bret Easton Ellis’ Lunar Park, a book I just listened to in audio form recently. Lerner presents the narrator, which might be himself, as a confused young man, whose success does little more than add to his confused state, which exists in a New York City on the threshold of disaster. The narrator, who is never named, has just been diagnosed with a rare heart disorder that might kill him at any time. To add to that earth-shattering bit of news, his best friend, Alex, has just asked him to father her child. And all this is happening in a New York beset by freak storms that have knocked out the power in the city, leaving everyone, including the writer and his odd group of friends, to their own devices. The plot is minimal, and includes a burgeoning book deal and a residency to Marfa, Texas. What makes this novel such a treat is the little happenings that take place within the narrators tumultuous life, which may or may not act to guide him to make the right decisions in his life. To bring up another book that this reminded of, there are a lot of details her that are similar to Javier Marias’ famous novel All Souls. Not only does it incorporate pictures into the text, but also each book is filled with little mysteries whose solutions would only ruin the beauty of the mystery, like who was the girl the narrator fell in love with years ago, who told her she was the daughter of mutual friends who then told him that they didn’t have children, or the weird parentage of Noor, the girl the narrator works with at a local whole foods store. Despite the book’s slim 240-page length, I am not even beginning to scratch the surface on the myriad of brilliant questions this book asks of the reader, while never once becoming arrogant or overbearing. It is the last book I read for the first half of the year, and it does nothing but make me excited for the second half.

Rating: 5/5

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