This is a book about self-consciousness … 10:04 feels like a significant book because it is so thoroughly inhabited by this yearning, and so abjectly conscious of the ways in which it falls short … Formally 10:04 belongs to an emerging genre, the novel after Sebald, its 19th-century furniture of plot and character dissolved into a series of passages, held together by occasional photographs and a subjectivity that hovers close to (but is never quite identical with) the subjectivity of the writer … At worst, this kind of writing can degenerate into something like an artfully curated social media feed, but Lerner writes with a poet’s attention to language, and manages to make his preoccupation with identity more than solipsistic…10:04 connects this anxiety about identity with metaphysical questions concerning time and repetition.
Mr. Lerner is among the most interesting young American novelists … In 10:04, he’s written a striking and important novel of New York City, partly because he’s so cognizant of both past and present. He’s a walker in the city in conscious league with Walt Whitman, but also with writers up through Teju Cole, whose protagonists are wide-awake flâneurs … At one point in 10:04, the narrator is having dinner with his agent...He tells her he hopes his novel will be, on some level, ‘a long list of things that quicken the heart.’ At this he has succeeded perfectly.
A generous, provocative, ambitious Chinese box of a novel, 10:04 is a near-perfect piece of literature, affirmative of both life and art, written with the full force of Lerner’s intellectual, aesthetic, and empathetic powers, which are as considerable as they are vitalizing … The book’s ‘meta’ strategy is a tight-wire act that could easily fall, in less savvy, stringent, or searching hands, into tinny satire or obnoxious spectacle. Instead, 10:04 is a captivating, moving tour de force … Futurity is 10:04’s principal concern, be it the future of the sinking metropolis of New York, the future of art, the future of capitalism, the future of the planet, or the future embodied by unborn human children … Its rigors and pleasures remain in service of nuance, of negotiation, of continuance.
How seriously should we take this novel-about-my-book-deal metafiction? Ben is the sort of person intellectually curious about the systems of commerce but not much interested in (or capable of) writing commercial fiction … 10:04 is a novel of intensities, an unfolding present. Some of this present is personal … The way he writes about drug experience isn’t much different from the way he writes about art … This is a beautiful and original novel…10:04’s prime theme is regeneration, biological and artistic, and it signals a new direction in American fiction, perhaps a fertile one.
10:04 may be a work of spectacular self-involvement but, happily, the self with which it is centrally involved proves to be one of the most curious and engaging characters in recent fiction … Ben looks at the world with a chilly, illusionless precision. His perceptions of contemporary New York, in all its frantic hedonism and scared hyperactivity, are one of the book’s principal pleasures … If Ben’s political yearnings remain conceptually woolly and, in practical terms, a long way from realization, they point toward another activity in which he has more luck imposing his personal vision on reality—his art … Page by page, it can be luminous, intelligent, poignant, and funny.
10:04 inhabits the liminal zone between kidding and not kidding in the sense that it is not strictly a work of fiction or non-fiction, but a meta-fiction preoccupied with the mysterious alchemical reaction that turns life into art. It is a brilliant novel, and one that left me with the uncomfortable suspicion that I was just possibly the object of a joke … Even when the narrative moves in a linear fashion it doesn’t feel linear since Lerner repeats himself—purposefully, of course … Lerner has written a rich, sophisticated novel, and maybe he’s not wrong to assume that he can make just about anything succeed on the page.
It is a rare skill, crafting prose that reads like stream of consciousness, and Ben Lerner has it … He's blazingly intelligent, creative and sensitive to the world. Despite his inwardly voiced insecurities, the evidence shows he's engaging and charming … What all this knowing self-deprecation masks is the fact that he doesn't try very hard to give his Alex/Liza a voice of her own … The narrative is completely wrapped up in ersatz Lerner's perceptions, which tend to flit through ideas and then return to himself. This is the hazard of the stream-of-consciousness story, that the self overwhelms all else.
Lerner writes rich, ruminative fiction that gnaws over one idea, moves on to another, and then returns to chew over the first again … 10:04 is a self-begetting novel, a metafiction that recounts its own genesis … Though a summary of 10:04 might make it seem insufferably cerebral, it is in fact heady without being precious, packed with striking, often comic, incidents … Ben Lerner is a courageous chronicler of meditative ambulation, of the mind reflecting on its own vibrant thinking processes before they congeal into inert thoughts.
Ben Lerner’s second novel begins with the moment it becomes a commodity … 10:04 never lets Ben, or the reader, off the hook by pretending that having a child or getting married or chilling out might somehow avert the world-historical crises at the end of his every train of thought. After all, they won’t … These disparate ingredients are held together by a set of overlapping motifs: the effect of commodity value on art; terrified adults attempting to reassure children; the transcendent emptying of assigned meanings and values. The echoes and repetitions are so explicit as to suggest poetry more than the novel as it’s usually practiced.
Time ricochets, splits and collapses in on itself so often in Ben Lerner’s wonderfully disorienting second novel 10:04 that the very idea of human experience takes on new meaning … The writing project seems all the more pressing given that the author in 10:04 has been diagnosed with a bizarre aortic condition that could cause his heart to give out at any moment. Living as he does on the precipice of life (or the verge of death), every human connection seems weighted with significance … This novel is a commentary on an America that’s hurtling toward the future but with its back turned to it.
This isn't some self-referential conceit, though what it is, precisely, is hard to say, and therein lies much of its pleasure … The slippery nature of temporality links the many brief passages where our narrator, in a voice melancholy, funny and tinged with self-conscious irony, ponders many things … The emotional intensity of poetry, along with its originality of thought and language, flickers here on every page, making the narrator a frequently brilliant companion … 10:04 leaves ample room for the reader to participate in the dizzying construction of "both sides of the poem" – past, future, real, imagined.