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A daily record of what I'm thinking about what I'm reading

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Sunday, June 21, 2015

To be young, gifted, and living in Brooklyn: 10:04

One of the dangers of being able to write really well and to have a mind that sparks lots of little ideas and thought experiments is that it takes even more discipline to use these skills to write a good novel. Ben Lerner has the skills and he's written, in 10:04, what I'd call a pretty good novel but it misses out on something, it's all brain and no heart (and no design or else a design so complex as to be opaque and obscure, at least to me). He spends a good deal of the last third of the novel describing his (I am assuming, for the moment, that Lerner and the narrator and "the author" are all one) fellowship in Marfa, Texas, where he is writing "this" novel - so we see the writer writing about the writer at work - and this includes a visit to the art installation in Marfa and the author's surprising reaction to the sculptures by Donald (?) Judd (they're real, you can easily find images through a search), and then a party among various artists and pretenders at which "the author" is surprisingly one of the oldest in attendance and the only one who kindly helps an intern who has a bad rx reaction. Later, BL describes his on-going relation w/best friend, Alex, and attempt to get her pregnant through artificial insemination, a technique the supplement by having sex - although neither seems to be into it, particularly; then describes his break-up w/ girlfriend because she's uncool w/ the insemination thing - she doesn't seem too broken up by the break-up nor does he. Altogether, I'm reading and wondering why this scene, why this story, why is he including this material in the novel - a novel he has to a degree undermined by explaining repeatedly that it grew out of a New Yorker story (true) following which his agent got him a big advance, so we sense that this isn't a work he's feeling compelled to writing or even interested in writing but that he's taken on as a piece of work, like a magazine assignment, to earn his pay. I know that writer have to earn a living and that many do take on projects w/ some reluctance but with a Beckettian need to press on no matter what - but I wish there were more passion and interest behind this work rather than just a high-order chronicle of a few months in the life of a very gifted 30-something Brooklyn novelist. Haven't quite finished and hoping something will happen in last few pages to tie the strands together to lift plot to a higher level.

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