Reviews provided by Syndetics
Library Journal Review
Starred Review. A philosophical meditation on poetry's attempt-and ultimate failure-to approximate abstract beauty, Lerner's Leaving the Atocha Station still resonates among literary critics as one of the best novels of 2011. Similarly, the relentless striving to understand our own mortality even as we negotiate the infinite future effectively underscores this new work. Set in New York City, the story features an unnamed protagonist with a modicum of literary fame, a heart condition, and a best friend who needs his assistance to conceive a child. Though graciously contributing to the start of another life, the narrator is constantly aware of his own fragile existence. This vexing awareness of time forms the core of the novel. Whether wandering through dinosaur exhibits, ruminating over the Challenger explosion, or staring at the Marfa lights, our storyteller is continually musing on the triadic relationship of the present to the unknown past and the uncertain future. VERDICT An autoethnography that skillfully weaves Back to the Future, the brontosaurus, and Ronald Reagan into a narrative about living in the moment; highly recommended. [See Prepub Alert, 3/31/14.]-Joshua Finnell, Denison Univ. Lib., Granville, OH (c) Copyright 2014. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
Publishers Weekly Review
In his second novel, an associative, self-aware roman a clef that ably blends cultures high and low, Lerner (Leaving the Atocha Station) explores the connections between contemporary life, art, and literary writing. The unnamed narrator is a 33-year-old Brooklyn-based novelist, poet, and teacher, at work on his second autobiographical novel, a follow-up to his debut, which was a surprise success (though a limited one). Much of his future hangs on the book's marketability, and whether he can secure a sizable advance for it. Though he is in poor health (possibly Marfanoid), he has consented to the request of his best friend, Alex, that he help her conceive a child by being a sperm donor for her. Still, he frets over the degree to which he wants to be involved in the process and worries that it might jeopardize his relationship with the "mysterious" artist Alena. In his spare time, he also mentors a boy named Roberto, whose company leads him to even more self-doubt regarding his fitness for fatherhood. Lerner's insistence on showing off his skill and his display of syntactical acrobatics sometimes result in overwrought constructions that detract from the narrative momentum, but readers who can overlook the sluggish start will be rewarded with engaging streams of thought and moments of tenderness. (Sept.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
Poet and novelist Lerner (Leaving the Atocha Station, 2011) captures in often beautiful and sometimes hilarious style the rhythms, dissonances, and ambiguities of a New York City set in . . . well, it's hard to say exactly when it is set, disorientation being one of the book's calculated effects. The past and presumed present are intermingled, perceptions shift, reality and technology are confused, and the narrative voice of the author is transformed into the writing style of its central character, also a writer. The epigraph (from a Hasidic tale) is of a reality where everything will be as it is now, just a little different, and a critical reference is Christian Marclay's (real) 24-hour film, The Clock, in which conventional plot is displaced in favor of interspersed scenes from other films wherein the otherwise disjointed action is keyed to real time (high noon, for example) in the movie clip. Lerner pulls this complex effort off with verve and a keen satiric eye and ear. This is a modern, very New York, and unique literary novel (with, perhaps, a nod to William Gaddis' The Recognitions).--Levine, Mark Copyright 2010 Booklist
Kirkus Book Review
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. Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.