Provocative and thoughtful, if at times wooly and interior.

10:04

An acclaimed but modest-selling novelist (not unlike the author himself) muses semiautobiographically on time, life and art.

“Proprioception”: The narrator of Lerner’s knotty second novel returns often to that word. It refers to the sense of where one’s own body is in relation to things, a signature theme for an author who’s determined to pinpoint exactly where he is emotionally and philosophically. As the novel opens, our hero has earned a hefty advance for his second book on the strength of his debut and a New Yorker story. This echoes Lerner’s real life, in which his first novel, Leaving the Atocha Station (2011), was a critical hit; the New Yorker story included in this novel did indeed appear in the magazine. What to make of such self-referentiality? More than you’d expect. Lerner blurs the lines between fact and fiction not out of self-indulgence but as a way to capture experience that emphasizes detail over narrative structure. That can pack both an emotional and an intellectual punch. Watching Christian Marclay’s art film The Clock (from which the book derives its title), Lerner is free to consider the distinctions between real time and imaginary time. Writing about his dead-ended attempt to make a novel out of fake letters between well-known writers, he plays with real and invented identities. There’s plenty of dry wit in 10:04 and some laugh-out-loud moments too (as when he’s asked to deliver a sperm sample on behalf of a friend eager to have a child). But as in his first novel, Lerner’s chief tone is somber; Topic A remains whether his ambition will fully connect with his art. At times he seems to strain to make scraps of experience (a residency in Texas; prepping for Superstorm Sandy; a shift at a Brooklyn grocery co-op) relevant to his themes, but few novelists are working so hard to make experience grist for the mill.

Provocative and thoughtful, if at times wooly and interior.

Pub Date: Sept. 2, 2014

ISBN: 978-0-86547-810-7

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: July 2, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2014

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ANIMAL FARM

A FAIRY STORY

A modern day fable, with modern implications in a deceiving simplicity, by the author of Dickens. Dali and Others (Reynal & Hitchcock, p. 138), whose critical brilliance is well adapted to this type of satire. This tells of the revolt on a farm, against humans, when the pigs take over the intellectual superiority, training the horses, cows, sheep, etc., into acknowledging their greatness. The first hints come with the reading out of a pig who instigated the building of a windmill, so that the electric power would be theirs, the idea taken over by Napoleon who becomes topman with no maybes about it. Napoleon trains the young puppies to be his guards, dickers with humans, gradually instigates a reign of terror, and breaks the final commandment against any animal walking on two legs. The old faithful followers find themselves no better off for food and work than they were when man ruled them, learn their final disgrace when they see Napoleon and Squealer carousing with their enemies... A basic statement of the evils of dictatorship in that it not only corrupts the leaders, but deadens the intelligence and awareness of those led so that tyranny is inevitable. Mr. Orwell's animals exist in their own right, with a narrative as individual as it is apt in political parody.

Pub Date: Aug. 26, 1946

ISBN: 0452277507

Page Count: 114

Publisher: Harcourt, Brace

Review Posted Online: Nov. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 1946

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Doerr captures the sights and sounds of wartime and focuses, refreshingly, on the innate goodness of his major characters.

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ALL THE LIGHT WE CANNOT SEE

Doerr presents us with two intricate stories, both of which take place during World War II; late in the novel, inevitably, they intersect.

In August 1944, Marie-Laure LeBlanc is a blind 16-year-old living in the walled port city of Saint-Malo in Brittany and hoping to escape the effects of Allied bombing. D-Day took place two months earlier, and Cherbourg, Caen and Rennes have already been liberated. She’s taken refuge in this city with her great-uncle Etienne, at first a fairly frightening figure to her. Marie-Laure’s father was a locksmith and craftsman who made scale models of cities that Marie-Laure studied so she could travel around on her own. He also crafted clever and intricate boxes, within which treasures could be hidden. Parallel to the story of Marie-Laure we meet Werner and Jutta Pfennig, a brother and sister, both orphans who have been raised in the Children’s House outside Essen, in Germany. Through flashbacks we learn that Werner had been a curious and bright child who developed an obsession with radio transmitters and receivers, both in their infancies during this period. Eventually, Werner goes to a select technical school and then, at 18, into the Wehrmacht, where his technical aptitudes are recognized and he’s put on a team trying to track down illegal radio transmissions. Etienne and Marie-Laure are responsible for some of these transmissions, but Werner is intrigued since what she’s broadcasting is innocent—she shares her passion for Jules Verne by reading aloud 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. A further subplot involves Marie-Laure’s father’s having hidden a valuable diamond, one being tracked down by Reinhold von Rumpel, a relentless German sergeant-major.

Doerr captures the sights and sounds of wartime and focuses, refreshingly, on the innate goodness of his major characters.

Pub Date: May 6, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-4767-4658-6

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: March 6, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2014

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