Working at the Park Slope co-op, 10:04's unnamed narrator wants to give some advice to a fellow volunteer. The woman, Noor, has just revealed that, not long after her father's death, she learned her father wasn't actually her father. She associated with his Lebanese ancestry, and she has difficulty comprehending what that now entails, knowing her relatives in Beirut aren't actually her relatives. A published writer dealing with a successful publication, the narrator worries, though, that his encouraging words will register as "presumptuous co-op nonsense," if he claims that "discovering you are not identical with yourself, even in the most disturbing and painful way still contains the glimmer, however refracted, of the world to come, where everything is the same but a little different."
Lifted from a Hasidic belief of the afterlife, the clause "where everything is the same but a little different" serves as the epigraph for Ben Lerner's second novel, becoming something close to a refrain. It's this notion—the ability, through art, to offer conflicting versions of the self—that Lerner, or Lerner's narrator, confronts. And it's to the author's great credit, most especially, that his words register not as "presumptuous co-op nonsense," as a pretentious or pedantic affront, but rather as a humorous and intelligent exploration of art's place in the present day.