10.04 by Ben Lerner (Granta, £14.99)
10.04 takes place mostly in New York, in the 14 months between hurricanes Irene and Sandy. The narrator, a writer whose first novel sounds a lot like Ben Lerner’s first novel Leaving the Atocha Station, and whose poetry is identical to some of Lerner’s published poetry, knows that his city is living on borrowed time—as he himself may be, since a heart abnormality means there is “a statistically significant chance the largest artery in my body would rupture at any moment.”
Now in his thirties, he is no longer the wunderkind-poet who can spend months drifting round Europe. An elderly couple wants to make him their literary executor; he mentors a Latino boy; his best friend asks him to donate sperm to father her child. The responsibilities that come with 21st-century adulthood may not look much like those of an earlier age, but they come all the same.
A new kind of existence demands a new kind of novel. “Part of what I loved about poetry was how the distinction between fiction and nonfiction didn’t obtain,” the narrator reflects, before telling us that his second novel is “the one I’ve written… for you, to you, on the very edge of fiction.” 10.04 exists precariously and brilliantly on the edges of several genres. It reproduces passages from Lerner’s journalism as well as one of his short stories. Preoccupied with apocalyptic visions and with the value—financial and otherwise—of art, 10.04 suggests that the future of the novel, at least, is hopeful.