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

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Friday, June 19, 2015

Very smart writer - but is this a smart novel?: 10:04

There's no question that Ben Lerner is a really smart guy - the American counterpart to the British precocious polymaths I posted about the other day - the American genius writer is not the world-wanderer but the urbanite, usually New York, usually Ivy-educated often Brown for some reason, often but not always Jewish, and as a writer flashy and bit of a showoff - you just know he (usually a he) was always praised unduly by parents for every clever utterance. Lerner's that guy - and more power to him - there are so many great passages in his current novel, 10:04, including verbal wit, sly literary references, imaginative narrative structure (stories within stories, a narrator telling of the story he is thinking of narrating, dizzying really), cultural critique (the passages on the moral self-righteousness of those who are members of his Brooklyn food co-op are particularly arresting and on point), odd cultural recollections (extensive discussion of the Challenger disaster and how that led to his becoming a writer), even some stunningly beautiful passages of scenic description - notably the beautiful section on his walk through Brooklyn and his view of Manhattan from Brooklyn Bridge Park (replete w/ obligatory Whitman references). Great novel to read on ipad because there were many words I wanted to look up and a few references to literary figures I wanted to check for veracity (surprised that the poet Bronk was real - who knew? - and can tell you that Bernard and Natalie are not real but anyone familiar with Providence writers will know exactly who they are in "real life"). No, the question is: Is this a good novel? And I just don't know. I'm reading through it with some pleasure and occasional puzzlement (some sentences I just plain can't understand - but same would be true when reading Ulysses). There may be a structure to his story, but there is certainly no arc - and I'm not sure if the structure makes any sense either - nor is it meant to. These are I think a series of apercus, scenes, memories, and speculations - many of them about the nature of experience, the difference between art and "reality," the question of what constitutes art in the first place (v forgery, fakery), the nature of memory, the nature of self (one long interesting section tells of of a woman - actually she tells her story - who in her 20s learns that her father was not her actual birth father, and therefore she is not, as she'd always thought, of Lebanese descent, so it's as if she's lived a though a life but has not lived a life - and Lerner compares this in odd ways with the experience of medical procedures under amnesia rx) - so much in this novel I literally can't yet get my mind around it, and at times I think it's brilliant and at other times like a high-end vamping, just figuring it out as he rolls along. Two notes: The Creeley pastiche, a fake letter from the poet, does not sound in the least like Creeley, I can assure you. And I for one did actually watch the Challenger live, or moments later, as I was having lunch w/, as Lerner would say, a very well-known author, in a restaurant w/ TV on and we saw the immediate aftermath live, to our shock. (CVA would confirm this I'm sure.)

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