By Ben Lerner
10:04 is a spectacular novel about nothing much, and you need to read it.
As much memoir as novel, 10:04 documents the struggles of its author, Ben Lerner, to create a second novel. Lerner identifies as a poet primarily, and only embarks on a second novel after having been offered “a strong six figures” to do so.
If his best friend hadn’t asked him to donate sperm and possibly co-parent a child, Lerner might have turned the offer down; but she asked, so he takes it.
This fractured family narrative - needing to be a breadwinner for a family that only liminally exists and has no cultural framework - is one example of the kind of broken mythic narrative Lerner explores in 10:04.
The novel is bookended by a pair of unseasonal hurricanes striking New York City, and the inability to any longer pinpoint oneself in the year using seasonal markers shared by the culture is another narrative thread.
Even the title, 10:04, refers to a moment in several times and no time - it’s the moment in Back to the Future when Marty McFly travels from the 1950s “back” to 1985.
The entire novel is woven from the warp and weft of Millennial relativist anxiety - in a world that’s deconstructed all its cultural, spacial and even environmental meaning, how does one place oneself, know oneself, or build a kind of meaning into one’s life? What sort of narratives can survive time, or exist outside of it?
This is the first novel I’ve ever read that could only have been written by a Millennial, and if this is what Generation Y will bring to literature, then I’m no longer afraid for the written word. The sheer luminous beauty of Lerner’s lost prose gave me chills - actual chills - and kept me awake at night rolling his words around, seeking new meaning.
10:04 is highly recommended to anyone wondering if the novel will survive the age of the 140 character limit.
– Shauna Costache,
public service supervisor