THE difficult part in reading a novel is not so much having to deal with an author’s thoughts, his sense of the world, her rendition of her own experience of living, which may or may not be different or the same as one own, familiarity and strangeness each with their own distinct pleasures.
The difficult part in reading a novel is having to live with one’s thoughts.
Right now, I am reading Ben Lerner’s new novel, 10:04. 10:04 is time lightning strikes the clock in the town of Marty McFly that will get him back to 1985 in the movie Back to the Future. This is one of my favorite movies and is part of the reason why I have bought this book and wanted to read it.
In 1985, I was watching a pirated version of Back to the Future on Betamax in my parent’s bedroom. You could tell it was pirated because in the scene where Marty McFly in his underwear meets a younger version of his mother in 1955, someone stands in the movie house and blocks the screen. In such ways did one know one was watching a pirated movie. Even if we did not call it then “pirated”. I forget now what we used to call it.
Another reason why I have started to read 10:04, why I continue to read it, having just finished the first part (p. 57) and about to start the second, and have failed at resisting the urge to write about it, is because in the first part of the book the hero of the novel, a version of the author, is at Whole Foods in Union Square in New York. This is significant to me because almost a year ago, this is exactly where I had first started reading the author’s first novel, Leaving the Atocha Station, a book about an author on a Fulbright scholarship walking around the streets of Barcelona at the time of the bombings of the train. I had bought Leaving at the Strand and realizing I had a few hours to kill before dinner, and since it had started to rain, preventing me from the kind of slow-paced sauntering I had preferred to take on the streets of New York (not the wet, messy wandering that faced me, now that it had started to rain), I decided to buy a salad, and start reading Leavingwhile I was sitting in one of the tables on the second floor of Whole Foods by the window where I had a view of the park. I do not remember much about Leaving the Atocha Station other than the fact that I thought the narrator, a young writer, thought a little too much.
I like Lerner because his sentences are long. I like Lerner’s sentences because midway through them I need to retrace my steps, at least a few lines back, back to the beginning of the sentence if I am lucky (back to the beginning of the paragraph when I’m not) because midway through I am usually already lost. I like them because they are the kind of sentences, they are the perfect length of a sentence that allows one to start thinking one’s own thoughts that may or may not have anything to do with the sentence, so one feels like one has stopped reading Lerner and one has begun reading one’s one thoughts, tracing one’s own story instead of his, thinking now of Cebu instead of New York, imagining a garden instead of a city, and believing (or misbelieving) that the novel one was reading was about the story of one’s life instead of another’s. Do you know what I mean?
I think you know exactly what I mean.
I also think you know exactly what I mean when I say that given such a book it helps there is a decent and recent author’s photo at the inside flap of the cover. Ben Lerner was born in 1979, a year after I was born, and has to his name three books of poetry, a Guggenheim, and two novels, including the one I am holding in my hand right now. Perhaps I too can write a novel? And two more books of poetry? I try not to let envy ruin my admiration too much.
It is still 2014 when I am writing this column. By the time you will read this, it will be 2015. It will be the future.