The Surprising Hasidic Subtext of a Popular New Novel


Ben Lerner is not primarily a novelist – he’s a poet. He’s also not a Hasid. But his new novel 10:04 opens with a quote: “Hasidim tell a story about the world to come that says everything there will be just as it is here…Everything will be as it is now, just a little different.”

From there, the book gets less religious (in its opening scene, Lerner dissects a baby octopus at a fancy restaurant) but no less introspective.

At its core, 10:04 is about Lerner’s female best friend, Alex, asking him to be her sperm donor. But Lerner has an intricately overactive mind – the book’s title comes both from the climax of the film Back to the Future and a real-life video montage by Swiss-American artist Christian MarclayThe Clock, which takes moments in films where a time is visible and mixes them into a mesmerizing 24-hour movie.

Like Marclay, Ben Lerner finds crazy amounts of meaning in the mundane, from cooking for strangers to his Park Slope Coop shift, mining simple interactions for untold depth and meaning. Perhaps, he later speculates, the world to come is our world – the only difference is our perspective.


Watch part of Christian Marclay’s art video The Clock:

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