10:04

10:04

by Ben Lerner

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Overview

Named One of the Best Books of the Year By:
The New Yorker The New York Times Book Review The Wall Street Journal The Village Voice The Boston Globe NPR Vanity Fair The Guardian (London) The L Magazine The Times Literary Supplement (London) The Globe and Mail (Toronto) The Huffington Post Gawker Flavorwire San Francisco Chronicle The Kansas City Star The Jewish Daily Forward Tin House

Winner of The Paris Review's 2012 Terry Southern Prize


A Finalist for the 2014 Folio Prize and the NYPL Young Lions Fiction Award

In the last year, the narrator of 10:04 has enjoyed unlikely literary success, has been diagnosed with a potentially fatal medical condition, and has been asked by his best friend to help her conceive a child. In a New York of increasingly frequent superstorms and social unrest, he must reckon with his own mortality and the prospect of fatherhood in a city that might soon be underwater.

In prose that Jonathan Franzen has called "hilarious ... cracklingly intelligent ... and original in every sentence," Lerner captures what it's like to be alive now, during the twilight of an empire, when the difficulty of imagining a future is changing our relationship to both the present and the past.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

Mr. Lerner is among the most interesting young American novelists at present . . . 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 . . . We come to relish seeing the world through this man's eyes.” —Dwight Garner, The New York Times

“Just how many singular reading experiences can one novelist serve up? . . . 10:04 is a mind-blowing book; to use Lerner's own description, it's a book that's written ‘on the very edge of fiction' . . . Lerner obviously loves playing with language, stretching sentences out, folding them in on themselves, and making readers laugh out loud with the unexpected turns his paragraphs take . . . 10:04 is a strange and spectacular novel. Don't even worry about classifying it; just let Lerner's language sweep you off your feet.” —Maureen Corrigan, NPR's Fresh Air with Terry Gross

“At 240 pages, his new novel does not announce itself as a magnum opus. But given Lerner's considerable humor, rigorous intelligence, and shred breed of conscience—his bighearted spirit and formal achievement—it is. 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.” —Maggie Nelson, The Los Angeles Review of Books

“Ingenious . . . Lerner packs so much brilliance and humor into each episode. Some, like the narrator's blunders while making his donation to a hospital fertility specialist, are worthy of Woody Allen in their comic neurosis. Others yield sparkling essayistic reflections on the blurred lines between art and reality . . . This brain-tickling book imbues real experiences with a feeling of artistic possiblity, leaving the observable world ‘a little changed, a little charged'.” —Sam Sacks, The Wall Street Journal

“This is only Lerner's second novel (and he is only thirty-five), and yet to talk about mere ‘promise,' as is customary with the young, seems insufficient. Even if he writes nothing else for the rest of his life, this is a book that belongs to the future.” —Giles Harvey, New York Review of Books

“I've only reread two novels this year: John Darnielle's Wolf in White Van and Ben Lerner's 10:04 . . . they are also two of the finest works of fiction I have read in a long time . . . As much as I adored Leaving the Atocha Station, 10:04 is an improvement . . . in every single way. The book is more ambitious, more intelligent, and, somehow, even more hysterical . . . Lerner's work feels so fluid, so natural that it feels like a magic trick when he moves from meditations about fatherhood to greater considerations of the world at large without batting an eye.” —Kevin Nguyen, Grantland

“What is 10:04 by Ben Lerner? It is a book for people who like great writing—"great," here, meaning frequently brilliant, electrically hyper-conscious, extravagnatly verbose, aggressively sesquipedalian throw-the-book-across-the-room-in-despair-that-you-will-never-invent-that-metaphor-because-he-just-did writing . . . Nothing much happens, except for writing. But let me tell you: The writing happens.” —Derek Thompson, The Atlantic, "Best Book I Read This Year"

“The boundaries between 10:04 and real life are porous, and it's exciting. But none of it would matter if it weren't for Lerner's excellent prose, which is galloping yet precise, his humorous, complex scene-settings (including one of the best extended party scenes I have ever read), his charming obsessions, and poingnant world-view.” —Halimah Marcus, Electric Literature

“Deeply intelligent, just as deeply funny, and ultimately quite moving. Plus, it's the only book this year to talk about Back to the Future AND Walter Benjamin with equal insight.” —Anthony Domestico, Commonweal

10:04, with its slippery relationship between narrator and author, its beautifully wrought sentences, and its intricate network of leitmotifs, allusions, and recurring phrases—from a jar of instant coffee to time travel, to the speech Ronald Reagan gave after the Challenger exploded—demonstrates the pleasures and insights . . . literariness can still afford.” —Daniel Hack, Public Books

“[10:04] is a beautiful and original novel . . . it signals a new direction in American fiction, perhaps a fertile one.” —Christian Lorentzen, Bookforum

“[Lerner's] concerns wrap around the modern moment with terrifying rightness . . . 10:04 describes what it feels like to be alive.” —John Freeman, The Boston Globe

“This masterful, at times dizzying novel reevaluates not just what fiction can do but what is is . . . Hilarious and incisive, Lerner's [10:04] would succeed without the layers of fiction (on reality on fiction). But with that narrative device, the book achieves brilliance, at once a study of how fiction functions and an expansive catalog of life.” —Tiffany Gilbert, Time Out New York [Five-star review]

“Lerner is talented at noticing his mind's feints and twitches, and thereby making the quotidian engaging . . . As I read 10:04 I began to feel life itself take on the numinous significance, the seriousness, or art.” —Gabriel Roth, The Slate Book Review

“Lerner, with his keen poetic eye, manages to fill 10:04 with deft, breathtaking observations and possibilities . . . If indeed, as many postmodern critics tell us, there is no longer the prospect of the certified masterpiece or the Great American Novel, Lerner has created a meaningful substitute: a thinking text for our time.” —Christopher Bollen, Interview

10:04, Ben Lerner's ingenious new novel, is a Sebaldian book made from starkly American material . . . If we are able to see things a little differently, the novel seems to say, if amid the chaos we can locate pockets of potential—for connection, for collectivity—then there's hope. Where Sebald mourns what has been lost in translation from life, Lerner steadfastly seeks what might be found.” —Alexander Benaim, Bookforum

“Lerner writes rich, ruminative fiction . . . Like Whitman, and like W. G. Seabld and Teju Cole, 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.” —Steven G. Kellman, San Francisco Chronicle

“Frequently brilliant . . . Lerner writes with a poet's attention to language.” —Hari Kunzru, The New York Times Book Review

“A funny, deeply observational metafictional romp.” —Jacob Shamsian, Entertainment Weekly

“A brilliant novel . . . As promising a second effort as Atocha Station was a debut.” —Juliet Lapidos, The New Republic

10:04 may be the best contemporary work of meta-fiction that I've ever read.” —Emily Temple, Flavorwire

“In an era of ironic detachment and political apathy, Lerner's 10:04 makes a strong case for art that can move from irony to sincerity.” —Alisa Sniderman, The Last Magazine

“Rampant self-deprecation and deft humor . . . separates 10:04 from other novels that focus on writers writing about writing . . . Lerner has now established himself firmly in the realm of fiction, adding to his triumphs in poetry and criticism. He will prove, if not already, to be an important figure in contemporary American literature.” —Alexander Norcia, Slant Magazine

“Lerner as author is a master manipulator, immersing you into the flow of a story and then pulling you back up to the surface at will . . . What makes Lerner one of the most compelling young writers working in both fiction and poetry is that he's fascinated by, and engaging convincingly with fascinating things.” —Elisa Gabbert, Open Letters Monthly

“[10:04 is] disarmingly clever, unstintingly intelligent, and intensely a product of our contemporary moment.” —Josh Lambert, Haaretz

“Lerner conjures a compelling vision of what it means to live now, examining our ties to the past and the forces that threaten to sunder us from it.” —Joe Fassler and Margot E. Fassler, Commonweal Magazine

“Lerner's perceptiveness makes his writing not only engaging but funny . . . Ben Lerner tells a story that moves and provokes.” —Maddie Crum, The Huffington Post

“Reading Ben Lerner gives me the tingle at the base of my spine that happens whenever I encounter a writer of true originality. He is a courageous, immensely intelligent artist who panders to no one and yet is a delight to read. Anyone interested in serious contemporary literature should read Ben Lerner, and 10:04 is the perfect place to start.” —Jeffrey Eugenides, author of The Marriage Plot

“Ben Lerner is a brilliant novelist, and one unafraid to make of the novel something truly new. 10:04 is a work of endless wit, pleasure, relevance, and vitality.” —Rachel Kushner, author of The Flamethrowers

“A work so luminously original in style and form as to seem like a premonition, a comet from the future.” —Geoff Dyer, The Observer on Leaving the Atocha Station

“Lerner's writing [is] beautiful, funny, and revelatory.” —Deb Olin Unferth, Bookforum on Leaving the Atocha Station

“[A] subtle, sinuous, and very funny first novel . . . There are wonderful sentences and jokes on almost every page.” —James Wood, The New Yorker on Leaving the Atocha Station

“One of the funniest (and truest) novels . . . by a writer of his generation.” —Lorin Stein, The New York Review of Books on Leaving the Atocha Station

“Flip, hip, smart, and very funny . . . Reading it was unlike any other novel-reading experience I've had for a long time.” —Maureen Corrigan, NPR's Fresh Air with Terry Gross on Leaving the Atocha Station

“Remarkable . . . a bildungsroman and meditation and slacker tale fused by a precise, reflective and darkly comic voice.” —Gary Sernovitz, The New York Times Book Review on Leaving the Atocha Station

“The overall narrative is structured round [these] subtle, delicate moments: performances, as Adam would call them, of intense experience. They're comic in that obviously, Adam is an appalling poseur. But they're also beautiful and touching and precise.” —Jenny Turner, The Guardian on Leaving the Atocha Station

Leaving the Atocha Station is a marvelous novel, not least because of the magical way that it reverses the postmodernist spell, transmuting a fraudulent figure into a fully dimensional and compelling character.” —Sam Sacks, The Wall Street Journal on Leaving the Atocha Station

“An extraordinary novel about the intersections of art and reality in contemporary life.” —John Ashbery on Leaving the Atocha Station

“Utterly charming. Lerner's self-hating, lying, overmedicated, brilliant fool of a hero is a memorable character, and his voice speaks with a music distinctly and hilariously all his own.” —Paul Auster on Leaving the Atocha Station

“Last night I started Ben Lerner's novel Leaving the Atocha Station. By page three it was clear I was either staying up all night or putting the novel away until the weekend. I'm still angry with myself for having slept.” —Stacy Schiff on Leaving the Atocha Station

“A character-driven 'page-turner' and a concisely definitive study of the 'actual' versus the 'virtual' as applied to relationships, language, poetry, experience.” —Tao Lin, The Believer on Leaving the Atocha Station

“Ben Lerner's Leaving the Atocha Station is a slightly deranged, philosophically inclined monologue in the Continental tradition running from Büchner's Lenz to Thomas Bernhard and Javier Marías. The adoption of this mode by a young American narrator—solipsistic, overmedicated, feckless yet ambitious—ends up feeling like the most natural thing in the world.” —Benjamin Kunkel, New Statesman's Books of the Year 2011 on Leaving the Atocha Station

New Statesman's Books of the Year 2011 on Leaving Benjamin Kunkel


Ben Lerner's Leaving the Atocha Station is a slightly deranged, philosophically inclined monologue in the Continental tradition running from Büchner's Lenz to Thomas Bernhard and Javier Marías. The adoption of this mode by a young American narrator--solipsistic, overmedicated, feckless yet ambitious--ends up feeling like the most natural thing in the world.

The Wall Street Journal on Leaving the Atocha Stat Sam Sacks


Leaving the Atocha Station is a marvelous novel, not least because of the magical way that it reverses the postmodernist spell, transmuting a fraudulent figure into a fully dimensional and compelling character.

The New York Times Book Review on Leaving the Atoc Gary Sernovitz


Remarkable . . . a bildungsroman and meditation and slacker tale fused by a precise, reflective and darkly comic voice.

NPR's Fresh Air with Terry Gross on Leaving the A Maureen Corrigan


Flip, hip, smart, and very funny . . . Reading it was unlike any other novel-reading experience I've had for a long time.

The New York Review of Books on Leaving the Atocha Lorin Stein


One of the funniest (and truest) novels . . . by a writer of his generation.

The New York Times Book Review - Hari Kunzru

…frequently brilliant…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. Its nearest relative is the work of Teju Cole…and it is occasionally reminiscent of the work of Geoff Dyer, who will turn an essay on D. H. Lawrence or Tarkovsky into an occasion to dissect the oddities of his own personality. 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. His failure to make the Lerner who is experiencing things coincide with the Lerner who represents himself on the page and in the social world starts to feel, if not quite heroic, then certainly a matter that concerns all of us, as we obsess over our profile pictures and work out at the gym.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781250081339
Publisher: Picador
Publication date: 10/13/2015
Pages: 256
Sales rank: 109,596
Product dimensions: 5.40(w) x 8.20(h) x 0.80(d)

Read an Excerpt

10:04

a Novel


By Ben Lerner

Faber and Faber, Inc.

Copyright © 2014 Ben Lerner
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-86547-810-7


CHAPTER 1

The city had converted an elevated length of abandoned railway spur into an aerial greenway and the agent and I were walking south along it in the unseasonable warmth after an outrageously expensive celebratory meal in Chelsea that included baby octopuses the chef had literally massaged to death. We had ingested the impossibly tender things entire, the first intact head I had ever consumed, let alone of an animal that decorates its lair, has been observed at complicated play. We walked south among the dimly gleaming disused rails and carefully placed stands of sumac and smoke bush until we reached that part of the High Line where a cut has been made into the deck and wooden steps descend several layers below the structure; the lowest level is fitted with upright windows overlooking Tenth Avenue to form a kind of amphitheater where you can sit and watch the traffic. We sat and watched the traffic and I am kidding and I am not kidding when I say that I intuited an alien intelligence, felt subject to a succession of images, sensations, memories, and affects that did not, properly speaking, belong to me: the ability to perceive polarized light; a conflation of taste and touch as salt was rubbed into the suction cups; a terror localized in my extremities, bypassing the brain completely. I was saying these things out loud to the agent, who was inhaling and exhaling smoke, and we were laughing.

A few months before, the agent had e-mailed me that she believed I could get a "strong six-figure" advance based on a story of mine that had appeared in The New Yorker; all I had to do was promise to turn it into a novel. I managed to draft an earnest if indefinite proposal and soon there was a competitive auction among the major New York houses and we were eating cephalopods in what would become the opening scene. "How exactly will you expand the story?" she'd asked, far look in her eyes because she was calculating tip.

"I'll project myself into several futures simultaneously," I should have said, "a minor tremor in my hand; I'll work my way from irony to sincerity in the sinking city, a would-be Whitman of the vulnerable grid."


* * *

A giant octopus was painted on the wall of the room where I'd been sent the previous September for evaluation — an octopus and starfish and various gill-bearing aquatic craniate animals — for this was the pediatric wing and the sea scene was intended to calm and distract the children from needles or the small hammers testing reflex amplitude. I was there at the age of thirty-three because a doctor had discovered incidentally an entirely asymptomatic and potentially aneurysmal dilation of my aortic root that required close monitoring and probable surgical intervention and the most common explanation of such a condition at such an age is Marfan, a genetic disorder of the connective tissue that typically produces the long-limbed and flexible. When I met with a cardiologist and he suggested the evaluation I'd noted my excess proportion of body fat and conventional arm span and only slightly above average height, but he counter-noted my long, thin toes and mild double- jointedness and contended that I might well fall on the diagnostic spectrum. Most Marfanoids are diagnosed in early childhood, thus the pediatric wing.

If I had Marfan, the cardiologist had explained, the threshold of surgical intervention was lower (when the diameter of the aortic root reached 4.5 centimeters), was basically nigh (I was at 4.2 centimeters according to an MRI), because the likelihood of what they call "dissection," a most often fatal tearing of the aorta, is higher among Marfanoids; if I did not have an underlying genetic condition, if my aorta was deemed idiopathic, I would still probably require eventual surgery, but with a more distant threshold (5 centimeters), and the possibility of much slower progression. In either case, I was now burdened with the awareness that there was a statistically significant chance the largest artery in my body would rupture at any moment — an event I visualized, however incorrectly, as a whipping hose spraying blood into my blood; before collapse a far look comes into my eyes as though, etc.

There I was at Mount Sinai Hospital underwater in a red plastic chair designed for a kindergartner, a chair that had the immediate effect of making me feel ungainly, gangly in my paper gown, and thus confirming the disorder before the team of evaluators arrived. Alex, who had accompanied me for what she called moral support but was in fact practical support, as I had proved unable to leave a doctor's office with even the most basic recollection of whatever information had been imparted to me there, sat across from me in the lone adult chair, no doubt placed there for a parent, notebook open in her lap.

I'd been told in advance that the evaluation would be conducted by a trio of doctors that would then consult and offer its opinion, which I thought of as a verdict, but there were two things about the doctors now entering with bright smiles that I was not prepared for: they were beautiful and they were younger than I. It was fortunate Alex was present because she would not have otherwise believed me that the doctors — all of whom appeared to be originally from subcontinental Asia — were themselves ideally proportioned in their white coats, with flawlessly symmetrical, high-boned faces that, no doubt through some deft application of shadow and gloss, glowed with almost parodic health even in hospital light, a dusky gold. I looked at Alex, who raised her eyebrows back at me.

They asked me to stand and proceeded to calculate the length of my arms and the curvature of my chest and spine and the arch of my feet, to perform so many measurements according to a nosological program mysterious to me that I felt as if my limbs had multiplied. That they were younger than I constituted an unfortunate milestone beyond which medical science could no longer stand in benevolent paternal relation to my body because such doctors would now see in my pathologized corpus their own future decline and not their past immaturity. And yet in this room outfitted for children I was simultaneously infantilized by three improbably attractive women in their mid- to late twenties while from the more than literal distance of her chair Alex looked on sympathetically.

It can taste what it touches, but has poor proprioception, the brain unable to determine the position of its body in the current, particularly my arms, and the privileging of flexibility over proprioceptive inputs means it lacks stereognosis, the capacity to form a mental image of the overall shape of what I touch: it can detect local texture variations, but cannot integrate that information into a larger picture, cannot read the realistic fiction the world appears to be. What I mean is that my parts were coming to possess a terrible neurological autonomy not only spatial but temporal, my future collapsing in upon me as each contraction expanded, however infinitesimally, the overly flexible tubing of my heart. Including myself, I was older and younger than everyone in the room.


* * *

Her support was moral and practical but also self-interested in that Alex had recently proposed impregnating herself with my sperm, not, she was at immediate pains to make clear, in copula, but rather through intrauterine insemination because, as she put it, "fucking you would be bizarre." The subject was broached at the Metropolitan Museum, which we often visited weekday afternoons, since Alex was unemployed, and I, a writer.

We had met each other in my freshman and her senior year of college in a dull class about great novels and felt an instant and mutual sympathy, but had not become best friends until we found ourselves almost neighbors in Brooklyn when I moved there a few years after graduation and we began our walks — walks through Prospect Park as light died in the lindens; walks from our neighborhood of Boerum Hill to Sunset Park, where we would watch the soft-winged kites at magic hour; nocturnal walks along the promenade with the looming intensities of Manhattan glittering across dark water. Six years of these walks on a warming planet, although walking wasn't all we did, had rendered Alex's presence inseparable from my sense of moving through the city, so that I intuited her beside me when she wasn't; when I crossed a bridge in silence, I often felt it was silence shared between us, even if she was visiting her parents upstate or spending time with a boyfriend, whom I could be counted on to hate.

Maybe she broached the subject at the museum and not over coffee or the like because in the galleries as on our walks our gazes were parallel, directed in front of us at canvas and not at each other, a condition of our most intimate exchanges; we would work out our views as we coconstructed the literal view before us. We did not avoid each other's eyes and I admired the overcast-sky quality of hers, dark epithelium and clear stroma, but we tended to fall quiet when they met. Which meant we'd eat a lunch in silence or idle talk, only for me to learn on the subsequent walk home that her mother had been diagnosed in a late stage. You might have seen us walking on Atlantic, tears streaming down her face, my arm around her shoulders, but our gazes straight ahead; or perhaps you've seen me during one of my own increasingly frequent lacrimal events being comforted in kind while we moved across the Brooklyn Bridge, less a couple than conjoined.

That day we were standing before Jules Bastien-Lepage's Joan of Arc — Alex looks a little like this version of her — and she said, apropos of nothing: "I'm thirty-six and single." (Thank god she had broken up with her latest, a divorced labor lawyer in his late forties who had done some work for the health clinic she'd codirected before it folded. After two glasses of wine, he invariably began regaling everyone within earshot with stories about his time undertaking suspiciously vague humanitarian labor in Guatemala; after three glasses of wine, the lawyer started in on his ex-wife's sexual repression and general frigidity; after four or five, he began to interweave these incommensurate discourses, so that genocide and his feelings of sexual rejection achieved implied equivalence within his slurred speech. Whenever I was around, I made certain his glass was full, hastening the relationship's demise.) "Not a day has gone by in the last six years when I haven't wanted a kid. I'm that cliché. I want my mom to meet my child. I have seventy-five weeks of unemployment benefits and insurance plus modest savings, and while I know that means I should be more afraid to reproduce than ever, what it actually makes me feel is that there will never be a good time, that I can't wait for professional and biological rhythms to coincide. We're best friends. You can't live without me. What if you donate the sperm? We could work out your level of involvement. I know it's crazy and I want you to say yes."

Three translucent angels hover in the top left of the painting. They have just summoned Joan, who has been working at a loom in her parents' garden, to rescue France. One angel holds her head in her hands. Joan appears to stagger toward the viewer, reaching her left arm out, maybe for support, in the swoon of being called. Instead of grasping branches or leaves, her hand, which is carefully positioned on the sight line of one of the other angels, seems to dissolve. The museum placard says that Bastien-Lepage was attacked for his failure to reconcile the ethereality of the angels with the realism of the future saint's body, but that "failure" is what makes it one of my favorite paintings. It's as if the tension between the metaphysical and physical worlds, between two orders of temporality, produces a glitch in the pictorial matrix; the background swallows her fingers. Standing there that afternoon with Alex, I was reminded of the photograph Marty carries in Back to the Future, crucial movie of my youth: as Marty's time-traveling disrupts the prehistory of his family, he and his siblings begin to fade from the snapshot. Only here it's a presence, not an absence, that eats away at her hand: she's being pulled into the future.


* * *

We were coconstructing a shoe-box diorama to accompany the book Roberto and I planned to self-publish about the scientific confusion regarding the brontosaurus: in the nineteenth century a paleontologist put the skull of a camarasaurus on an apatosaurus skeleton and believed he'd discovered a new species, so that one of the two iconic dinosaurs of my youth turns out not to have existed, a revision that, along with the demotion of Pluto from planet to plutoid, retrospectively struck hard at my childhood worldview, my remembered sense of both galactic space and geological time. Roberto was an eight-year-old in my friend Aaron's third-grade class at a dual-language school in Sunset Park. I had asked Aaron if there was some way I could be of use to one of his charges while also smuggling in occasional Spanish practice. Roberto was intelligent and sociable, but even more susceptible to distraction than the average child, and Aaron thought our working on a series of projects after school might trick him into, or at least model for him, modes of concentration. I had no official permission to be in the school, although Aaron had asked Roberto's mom — emphasizing that I was a published author — if she was comfortable with the prospect, and she was.

During our first session, Roberto had a nut-related allergic reaction to the granola bars I'd brought but failed to clear with Aaron and, as the boy crimsoned and wheezed, smiling all the while, I was seized with animal terror; I imagined having to open his windpipe with a pencil. Luckily, Aaron returned from his meeting in an adjacent classroom and calmed me down, explaining Roberto's allergy was minor and the reaction would soon pass, but that I should be careful in the future; he didn't know I was bringing a snack. The third or fourth week of tutoring, when Aaron was again out of the room, Roberto, without warning, mutinied, informing me he was going to find his friends and, since I wasn't his teacher, I couldn't stop him. He bolted down the hall and I walked quickly after him, cheeks burning with an embarrassment I feared any adult witnesses would confuse for a species of lechery. I eventually located him in the corner of the gym that was also the cafeteria, in a small circle of his classmates that had formed around a truly gargantuan water bug carcass, and I lured Roberto back to the classroom only by promising I'd let him play with my iPhone.

By now, the third month of tutoring, we were close friends: for snack I brought fresh fruit he never ate and Aaron had had Roberto's mom threaten the child about disobeying me. In the initial aftermath of my diagnosis, when every few minutes I believed I was dissecting, the time I spent trying to coax Roberto into focusing on the mythology of the kraken or recently discovered prehistoric shark remains was the only time in which I was myself distracted from the potentially fatal swelling at my sinus of Valsalva.

Thus only a few days after the Marfan evaluation I was again in a child-sized chair, cutting out with those awkward elementary school scissors various dinosaurs we'd printed off the Internet onto construction paper to serve as prey or companion for the apatosaurus in the diorama, no doubt anachronistically, as we hadn't the patience to determine which dinosaurs corresponded to what geological period, when Roberto returned to a subject that had entered his dreams since he'd watched a show on the Discovery Channel about the advent of a second ice age.

"When all the skyscrapers freeze they're going to fall down like September eleventh," he said in his typically cheerful tone, but more quietly, "and crush everyone." Roberto tended to modulate not tone but volume to indicate gravity and emotion.

"Maybe if it started getting really cold the scientists would figure out a new heating system for the buildings," I said.

"But global warming," he said, smiling and showing the gap where he was awaiting a mature incisor, but almost whispering, a sign of genuine fear.

"I don't think there will be another ice age," I lied, cutting out another extinct animal.

"You don't believe in global warming?" he asked.

I paused. "I don't think buildings are going to fall on anybody," I said. "Did you have another dream?"


(Continues...)

Excerpted from 10:04 by Ben Lerner. Copyright © 2014 Ben Lerner. Excerpted by permission of Faber and Faber, Inc..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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