Tuesday, December 30, 2014

book review: 10:04 by Ben Lerner

The backstory: 10:04, the second novel by poet Ben Lerner, is a 2014 New York Times Notable Book.

The basics: Told in five sections, 10:04 is an exploration of time and life through the eyes of our unnamed narrator, a poet and novelist living in Brooklyn.

My thoughts: Ben Lerner grew up in Topeka, Kansas. He's one year older than I am, and we have a lot of mutual real-life Topeka friends. He then went on to Brown University, where a lot of my high school went to college. He now lives in Brooklyn, where a lot of my high school friends live. All of this is to say, this novel is somewhat autobiographical and straddles the lines between fiction and memoir. Some of my enjoyment of it can likely be traced to the descriptions of life in Topeka in the mid-1980's, when I too lived there. Even if I didn't share such experiences, however, I would love this novel. I adore the way Lerner writes. He has a poet's precision of language that is breathtaking. He writes with incredible wisdom. And he writes with a raw honesty and haunting intimacy for his characters that kept me wondering where the truth ends and the fiction begins.

His succinct characterizations are a delight: "Sharon desired to be vulgar with an earnestness that defeated vulgarity." My Kindle tells me I highlighted twenty-one passages in 10:04. Some are beautiful and intriguing without the context of this book, but some almost bend themselves around when taken with the context of the book itself. 10:04 is a book I want to read and re-read for years to come. It's a literary marvel.

Favorite passage:  "As I made and unmade a variety of overlapping narratives out of its found footage, I felt acutely how many different days could be built out of a day, felt more possibility than determinism, the utopian glimmer of fiction."

The verdict: 10:04 is the best book this year that I'll recommend to hardly anyone. If you like beautiful, brilliant, thought-provoking novels begging you to read slowly and carefully, make connections, and think deeply, then you'll love this book. If you like to ponder the tensions and connections between fiction and memoir, and between time and memory, then you will delight in 10:04. If you need plot to enjoy a novel, then this one might not be for you. I do hope it wins the Pulitzer Prize in April. Ben Lerner is one of the best novelists writing today,

Rating: 5 out of 5
Length: 257 pages
Publication date: September 2, 2014
Source: purchased

Convinced? Treat yourself! Buy 10:04 from Amazon (Kindle edition.)

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1 comment:

  1. I actually haven't heard much about this but had it on my list and usually that combination leads to just a so so book. I'm glad to hear this is so good, though it sounds sort of different. I will be checking this one out!

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