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This is unlike anything else I have read this year, at times a fascinating meditation on the American psychological state and at times an interesting interpersonal story. Lerner has either learnt or forced himself not to be so sexist since his poetry days and has done a decent job of writing female characters in this book. Good to see some progress in a writer - plus if you were born in the 80s you'll enjoy all the references!
First, the health warning, I suppose. If you like novels that tell a simple story from beginning to end, then this is probably not the book for you. I had to read it twice to 'get it' But the writing is good and some of the comic scenes (particularly the sperm donor scene) are very funny in the self-deprecating New York fashion. The novel within the novel, where everything is the same, just slightly changed, is the ongoing theme of the book.
Some of the references in the book did go over my head. There are many mentions of the film 'Back to the Future', which I haven't seen. I think the title itself refers to that film. The octopus leitmotif (you'll know what I mean if you read it) seemed to me a little stretched. But I could see what Lerner was getting at.
In the end, I enjoyed it. Not a life-changing novel, but a good one.
Knausgaard sent me to this, and I am grateful. A fun hopscotch among times and settings and types of writing (fiction, poetry, a kid’s science essay). Plus some photos and illustrations. The story is not the richest—it is about a guy worried about his heart and his writing who is deciding whether to become a dad. That is it. And, the narrator can at times sound callow. But I enjoyed the wild vocabulary (not since Henry Roth have I encountered a writer who is so passionate about unusual words), the interesting setting, and the plot mash-up. Oh, and he introduced me to a poet I had never heard of before, William Bronk, who turns out to be great.
I wish I were erudite enough to give a good explanation of why I liked this book. Basically, I found it stimulating and abstract. If you are looking for a straightforward narrative, this is not the book for you. I think you just have to let go and take the ride and not think too much about what it all means or how it fits together, although it did feel like it came together at the end.
Lerner does sling around a lot of vocabulary words--thank goodness for the Kindle's interactive dictionary!--but it mostly seems in keeping with the character. If you've read any David Foster Wallace, you can't get annoyed at the vocabulary used here. It pales in comparison.
The writing was excellent. Nice to find something different out there that is still readable.
If the "doner" and "esteemed dinner guest" scenes don't have you laughing in full-throat throttle...you should probably stop reading contemporary novels. Mr. Learner never uses his razor-wit for cheap or cruel shots. He never needs to. You know you're reading from a mind brighter then your own and probably more compassionate. Rather than lessened, my spirit was unequivocally elevated.
Nabokov said that you can't read a great novel; you can only re-read it. I'm not sure that this is a great novel, but I'm definitely going to have to re-read it. Either it's a bunch of autobiographical stuff stitched together with a bunch of random notes left over in the writer's desk, or it has a very complex and meaningful structure that reflects the themes concerning time--past, present, future. Given the author's great intelligence and sensitivity, I suspect it's the latter, but I'm holding back that fifth star until I've had another go at it.
I'll admit it, I wanted to hate this book because its narrator is so smart and self aware and lerner-esque and of course it's pretty much whiney autobiography dressed up as fiction. BUT! It's not bad. In places it's actually borderline great. I loved certain lines and found myself underlining them. To paraphrase, "Nothing is as old as what was futuristic in the past." Hated the preggers side story, no interest in the guy as a writer doing writer stuff, other characters were cardboard cut outs, but loved the neurotic stream of consciousness.
loved me some a-toke-a-Station but found this one's solipsistic charms started to wear thin after a few chapters. Geoff Dyer is better at laughing at his ponderousness, Nicholson Baker is just funnier in his noticings. Ben Lerner's got serious chops though and I want him to tackle something more specific next time--he needs something to do for once beside the usual flanneurish stuff--dissing art openings, doubting his authenticity, kinda being into this or that girl etc...
Edit: I had originally given this novel 3 stars, but coming back to it a few years later I am, because of my circumstances, more understanding of the novels intention. It's a great novel which is better read in the face of a travesty.
Ben Lerner's newest novel does not resonate as Leaving The Antocha Station did. It's a nice novel, the theme of the future pulling one into it is very nicely pieced together. I am also a fan of pictures inside novels (when done correctly of course). But the novel's story did not draw me in. But let's face it Lerner is a man who writes for himself and that was the gold of LTAS. Too bad it didn't translate well into 10:04.
Moving from prose to poetry, and fiction to life, this book opens up worlds of imaginative possibilities. Here is a writer in full command of his word armies. Here is a book that breaks the bounds of modernism and post-modernism. There's something both refreshingly innocent and intensely sophisticated in these pages. I will be thinking about it, and feeling it's rhythms, for a long time to come.