Hey, 10:04 is the new book by Ben Lerner and it’s one of my favorites of 2014.
(Anyone who follow me knows I’ve written and tweeted about it a lot…).
The book alternates between truth and fiction, interspersing Ben Lerner’s life with the narrator’s life (also named Ben Lerner) and then another narrator who emerges within a reprinted fiction story.
That fiction story was actually printed in the New Yorker, which then helped Ben Lerner get a real advance for this book (I think) and the notion of getting an advance for a book from the New Yorker story was mentioned in the book, etc., etc. The central conflict is whether or not the narrator Ben will artificially inseminate his best friend Alex, and what Ben will do about writing a new novel. That’s confusing, but here’s a pretty good summary from an interview with Lerner in the Believer:
“The edge of fiction flickers.”
I love that.
Within the novel, as noted above, Lerner mentions this edge a few times. Within the edge, he’s replacing the literary fraudulence in the situation within the novel, with an actual literary fraudulence that we’re reading.
There’s a part where he mentions a similar phrase, but in conjunction with how poems are perceived. Take this, from the book (which may have been rewritten from the quote above?)
“…I decided to replace the book I’d proposed with the book you’re reading now, a work that, like a poem, is neither fiction nor nonfiction, but a flickering between them; I resolved to dilate my story not into a novel about literary fraudulence, about fabricating the past, but into an actual present alive with multiple futures.”
He has a point about poems–no one ever asks if they’re “true” or not (I mean, not for the most part), we just take what they’re saying about the world at face value, without questioning its origin or merit.
We’ve seen this edge quite a bit recently in independent literature, whether it be in confessional poems, Megan Boyle’s Liveblog work, Tao Lin’s Taipei (he’s the one that did the interview above…), Scott McClanahan’s work or Lerner’s previous Leaving The Atocha Station.
More broadly, this has been a central problem with David Sedaris and James Frey and a lot of those memoirists who were blackballed for not being “real” enough.
Meanwhile, there were being no less “real” than what’s socially acceptable.
In the era where identity has become more fluid, because of status updates and online personas, our actual lives are becoming more and more of a developed fiction. We work hard at cultivating the image of ourselves that we want others to consume–a real-life fiction.
Discovering this authenticity, wondering about the real versus the temporary, this is the guessing game that we involve ourselves in, from celebrity rumors to wondering what our friend’s new house looks like just from the Instagrammed photos.
This is the flickering edge.
Also, within the book, Lerner does an excellent job of analyzing our current lives–from the ways we think about food, to the underclass, to the impoverished, to art. He has an incredible ability to make connections beyond the obvious and to wrap it into a story, propelled by the technological logistics and coldness of modern procreation.
With the book, Lerner bears something new within a frigid form. Continuing to confuse the boundaries is one of the few places that literature can continue to go–precisely becomes it makes people intrigued, yet unsafe. That gives us “multiple futures”–ones that are true, ones that are false, ones that both in varying measures.
And on the edge of fiction, you don’t know what’s true or what’s false, but Lerner still carries truth about THE WAY WE LIVE NOW.