’10:04’ by Ben Lerner (2014) – 241 pages
The technical term for ’10:04’ by Ben Lerner is that it is a lame metafiction. According to Dictionary.com, Meta-fiction is “fiction that discusses, describes, or analyzes a work of fiction or the conventions of fiction.” Or, more simply, metafiction is a fiction that deals with writing fiction.
The word MetaFiction sounds like one of those pretentious modern terms, but the first great metafiction novel goes all the way back to ‘Don Quixote’ by Cervantes in the early seventeenth century. In ‘Don Quixote’, Don Quixote’s friend advises him how to make his story look like other tales of chivalry, and thus the first great metafiction was born. I love the games that Cervantes plays with his knight Don Quixote and his trusted squire Sancho Panza.
A more recent example of a metafiction that I admire is ‘Dublinesque’ by Enrique Vila-Matas in which he and some of his author friends go to Dublin to celebrate Bloomsday. ‘Dublinesque’ is one of the most charming novels ever written. Another great work of metafiction is ‘Pale Fire’ by Vladimir Nabokov which dazzles us with its hunor and depth.
However I do not find all metafiction so entertaining. For example, this year I found ‘My Struggle – Book I’ by Karl Ove Knausgaard to be mundane and essentially humorless, a long slog.
But I’m here today to review ’10:04’. The novel is about Ben Lerner writing a novel which happens to be ’10:04’.
“I was there at the age of thirty three because a doctor had discovered incidentally an entirely asymptomatic and potentially aneurismal dilation of my aortic root that required close monitoring and probable surgical intervention and the most common explanation of such a condition at such an age is Marfan, a genetic disorder of the connective tissue that typically produces the long-limbed and flexible.”
Please take the above sentence, because I don’t want it. Lerner may be making some sly comment on medical lingo. He also may be using these words to obtain precision. However I found this sentence and the many other sentences like this in the novel off-putting.
There’s a lot of medical jargon in the book. I was not delighted by the several pages devoted to the author’s wisdom tooth extraction. Nor did all the other pages devoted to the author’s various medical procedures do anything for me. Then there is the sperm donation scene. That shtick is a stale old comedy routine.
The danger for Ben Lerner is that he may come across as an insufferable hypochondriac and not very funny. When he talks about his book, he talks about the huge advance the publishers will be paying him. Contrast that with the sparkling insights expressed by the various writers in ‘Dublinesque’. Instead of “a nice crossing of reality and fiction” which is probably what the author intended, many of the scenes are distinctly unpleasant.
The novel begins and ends with a bad storm in New York City. The New York presented here is pretty much the standard issue New York with no original thoughts or insights regarding the city. The way Lerner talks about the storms sounds like an extension of his hypochondria.
’10:04’ is somewhat of a diffuse hodgepodge with a story thrown in here and a poem thrown in there. The only character that comes across distinctly is the Author himself, and I found the Author somewhat repellent.