Hello, it's your old pal the Rake here to discuss my nominee for the Autumn 2005 LBC selection, 10:01 by Lance Olsen.
Now what can I say about 10:01 that hasn’t already been said?
Quite a bit, in fact, because not as many people have heard about this book as should. I count one review—mostly negative—at PopMatters and a handful of glowing customer blurbs at Amazon. And to be completely honest, I probably wouldn’t have heard about it either—or its publisher, Chiasmus Press—but for a person (who took the LBC to task for picking Kate Atkinson) bringing it up as a novel worthy of attention. (Good sir, I haven’t searched for your name, but feel free to take credit for pricking up my ears.)
By the time my copy arrived, I’d plowed through a fair number of obscure books and hadn’t come to one that I’d heartily recommend. So I started with the 10:01 blurbs—always dangerous ground—and read this description:
Walter Benjamin envisioned the underground Paris Arcades as the quintessential 19th century industrial dream space. In 10:01 Lance Olsen provides us with the Millennial version: the Mall of America, in Bloomington, Minnesota, large enough to contain seven Yankee Stadiums. Each page headlines a different character or set of characters randomly flung together in a movie theater there in mid-afternoon. They interface (often freakishly) with each other; with the Mall's blandishments; with the images on the screen; with their own fantasies. At the climax the theater and its inhabitants suddenly implode, perhaps out of the ultimate logic of late industrial capitalism. Or they don't implode but are sucked irresistibly into the black hole of American make-believe. Olsen has written a cunningly original docufiction of the American psyche post-9/11 and perennial.
Walter Benjamin? The ultimate logic of late industrial capitalism? Docufiction?
Yeah. Well. OK. Even if I stuck around for the entire 200 or so pages, I’d be able to knock this one out in an afternoon and forget about it, on to the next.
But it happened that I started to quite like what Mr. Olsen had going: A friendly little book, acessible, smart, funny, even a little goofy at times—there are a coupla cartoon rednecks here that might surpass even the belt-buckle-broad comedy sensibilities of one Jeff Foxworthy—but one that always managed to sneak in some unexpected nugget of insight or bit of lovely writing.
10:01 starts like this:
MIDAFTERNOON IN A MOVIE THEATER in the Mall of America. Glary lights before the show make everything seem stark and unfinished to Kate Frazey, a bony aerobics instructor relieving herself of her shocking-pink ski jacket, bunching it on the folded-up seat beside her, and sitting in row three, seat nine, seeing herself as she does so as if from a crane shot among these other filmgoers filtering in and settling down around her. Kate, blond hair so dark it is almost the color of high-fiber breakfast cereal, is Franz Kafka's great-great granddaughter, although she carries no awareness of this within her. She doesn't know her great-great grandfather once had an affair with another bony woman, Grete Bloch, friend of Felice Bauer, to whom Kafka was briefly engaged. Kate doesn't know Grete had a son about whom Kafka never learned, nor that his son was supposed to have died while a child, but was adopted by a Jewish businessman and his wife, and brought to New York in the thirties. Whenever Kate dreams, it is about the plots of Kafka's work, which she has never read because she believes there are already too many stories in the world. Kate dreams that two strangers in top hats and frock coats are always knocking at her door, wanting in. That she is a ninety-pound weight-loss artist dissolving in a cage full of hay in the town square in Prague. That she is a muscular hare darting through a wet field at night and that, no matter how fast she runs, no matter which direction she chooses, the beautiful hounds sleeping within the castle miles away will awaken the next day and chase her down. This is why Kate doesn't sleep unless she has to. This is why she hasn't slept for two nights, why she leans forward now, elbows on knees, concentrating very hard on keeping her glistery brown eyes wide open.
That’s the type of passage that makes me want to say that this book isn’t for everyone. (But I won’t.) Still, I think you either like this type of thing or you don’t. Take, for example, this:
Thirty feet above Celan Solen skitters a mouse through the warm darkness flooding the ventilation system. Tucked into the mouse’s breast immediately behind its heart is the soul of Remedios the Beauty, a young woman from a small village in Colombia. When she was alive, Remedios the Beauty used to drive men mad with the sweetness of her scent, part orange, part cinnamon.
At the risk of assuming something about the General Reader, I’m saying that that’s the type of passage that either drives you away from a book or reels you in. Me, I was reeled in.
The charms of 10:01 are not necessarily hard-won—there’s enough humor and character to keep you cheerfully speeding along—but on the other hand the little mysteries of the text and deeper philosophical underpinnings seem to be there, too, if you wish to dig. (See this interview with Olsen, for example.) You might also wish to simply ponder why quote unquote actor Josh Harnett is a character in 10:01, but my point is that he’s not in the book simply to amuse; Olsen’s a little more crafty than that and after a little bit more.
I’ll bet—and sort of know—that this book will be polarizing, and I can understand why a person might just want to toss it across the room and fall into the reassuring and waiting arms of, say, Richard Ford. Olsen’s not as deliberate as Ford, and not seamless. But I’d recommend him for just that reason, and to all readers who like to sink into a book and let their minds get a little untidy. As a friend of mine used to say, It ain’t gonna cost you nothing to find out, either, because the whole book’s available as a hypertext presentation here. (I recommend the paper copy, of course, but the hyper version gives you a good—if somewhat recontextualized—idea of what Olsen’s up to.)
Thanks to the LBC’s methods and madness I know about 10:01, a novel that cheers me up in the way that a truly novel novel can—it gives a bit of a lift that comes from knowing that the world of the possible, at least as far as literature is concerned, is larger than I’d thought. And I now know of Lance Olsen, who has a bunch of other books out there to explore—to wit, "six novels, four critical studies, four short-story collections, a poetry chapbook, and Rebel Yell: A Guide to Fiction Writing, as well as editor of two collections of essays about literary innovation."
For me, this little LBC endeavor has turned up some real finds, and for that I'm thankful to be a part of it and to be following along. If this round helps a bunch of hungry readers track down a book they’ll enjoy as much as I enjoyed 10:01—or The Angel of Forgetfulness or Stephen Dixon's Old Friends—then we've lived up to the task.
Now please stay tuned for more discussion of this title and the other nominees, coming soon. And if you'd like to join a discussion about this book, we'll be kicking it off October 3rd.