10:04 Summary & Study Guide

Ben Lerner
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10:04 Summary & Study Guide Description

10:04 Summary & Study Guide includes comprehensive information and analysis to help you understand the book. This study guide contains the following sections:

This detailed literature summary also contains Quotes and a Free Quiz on 10:04 by Ben Lerner.

NOTE: Due to the structure of this novel, quotes are referenced by page number. This guide refers specifically to the October 2015 Picador USA paperback edition.

“10:04” is a novel by Ben Lerner in which Lerner has composed a novel based on a short story in which the never-named narrator seeks to write a novel from a short story, while the narrator in the short story seeks to write a novel from a short story. As the novel begins, the New York-based narrator explains he has written a short story that he is seeking to turn into a novel. At the same time, the narrator’s best friend, Alex, has asked him to donate sperm to her so that she can become pregnant. She is worried that her chances at marriage have all passed her by. The narrator himself wonders what it would be like to be a father, a question that yields some answers in his decision to mentor a young boy named Roberto. He helps Roberto to write a book on the brontosaurus, and how it was mistakenly classified early on.

As the narrator struggles to write his novel, he must also contend with the knowledge that global warming is sending massive storms the way of New York. He also struggles with the fact that he has been diagnosed with a serious heart condition which could potentially kill him. Between disasters within, natural disasters, and a potential disaster of the self through struggling to write a novel expected to be bid upon by numerous publishers, the narrator begins to experience sensations of unreality, surreality, and time warps. For example, one evening he suspects he may be in 1883, 1912, or 2012 when he comes upon gaslight streetlamps in Brooklyn. At various points throughout the novel, the narrator questions whether what he is experiencing is real, and where it is occurring. He decides that his novel is going to be open-ended with many possible explanations and futures.

The short story of discussion is then reproduced in its entirety. “The Golden Vanity” features a writer seeking to turn his short story into a novel for the big publishers to bid upon. The novel is largely reflective of the novel-narrator’s life. Circumstances and names have been changed ever so slightly, warping reality just enough to call it fiction, but retaining enough truth to write it realistically. For example, Alex becomes Eliza in the short story, while the novel-narrator’s heart condition becomes the story-narrator’s brain condition. The short story contains the story-narrator’s father playing a song from childhood called “The Golden Vanity”, in which a young boy is lost at sea. The story-narrator has had his father alter the ending so the child is saved, leading to the reality of the song and therefore the short story being altered.

As the novel continues, the narrator struggles to write his novel. He goes to Texas on a fellowship, only to end up writing poetry instead of the novel. He also nearly wrecks his unstable health by attending a party and doing drugs. After he sobers up, he decides his novel will definitely be open-ended with many possible futures. He returns to New York where he puts his relationship with his girlfriend, Alena, on hold, so that he can have sex with Alex to impregnate her. At this time, a hurricane hits New York, causing moderate damage which includes a blackout over part of the city. Here, Ben Lerner supplants the narrator as narrator, directly addressing the reader. He explains that his walk through the darkened city, and his looking at photos of the event lead to the cover of the novel, and how he has pushed the edge of fiction.

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This section contains 620 words
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