10:04 tells of a time with increasingly frequent super storms; the novel is bookended with Hurricanes Irene and Sandy (although they are never referred to by name). Our unnamed narrator has also been diagnosed with Marfan syndrome, which is almost always fatal. Faced with the state of the world and his own mortality, this narrator must question his legacy. Not just biologically but as a writer he must consider what he will leave behind.
A Brooklyn based writer, this narrator starts off early within the novel talking about just what kind of life he has. In one particular passage he describes visiting the Metropolitan Museum, a frequent occurrence, with a friend. “We often visited weekday afternoons, since Alex was unemployed, and I, a writer.” The two like to look at all the melodrama found in the 19th century, in particular his favourite; a painting of Joan of Arc. This passage not only sets up an introduction to our narrator and his female friend Alex but also an indication of what type of novel to expect here.
Ben Lerner has an uncanny ability to write a unique novel that is both beautiful and moving but at the same time remaining hilarious and intelligent. I will admit that the novel did make me feel stupid so many times but I love a book that makes me work to fully grasp it. I always get a real sense of accomplishment when I finish a book like 10:04. For those that are hesitant about reading a book that might make them feel dumb, I think 10:04 is worth the effort and the challenge.
This novel explores a lot of interesting themes from friendship, sex, memory, legacy, art and politics; think of this as a book that explores the landscape of the contemporary life. The narrator is a bit pretentious but then again the circles he hangs out in are full of pseudo-intellectuals. The New York literary scene has been done time and time again, however I am a huge fan of this setting and I think there are so many opportunities to explore interesting ideas. 10:04 did exactly that.
It seems like Ben Lerner is going to be one of those authors that the literary world will need to watch. His first novel Leaving the Atocha Station was met with critical acclaim, showing up on all the major literary magazines’ best books of the year list. A novel I have yet to read but if it is anything like 10:04, I know I will love it. Ben Lerner manages to capture so many emotions in one single narrative, 10:04 is just a great book and I expect to see many more great novels from Ben Lerner in the future.