Online Edition: Fall 2005

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10:01

Lance Olsen

Chiasmus Press ($12)

by Scott Esposito

Early in 10:01, the accomplished new experimental novel from Lance Olsen, we're told that movie directors employ a technique called a zip pan, in which "the camera moves so quickly the image in between the original subject and its successor is blurred." This is far from trivial information; 10:01 is constructed of about 100 two-page vignettes connected by the literary equivalent of a zip pan. Each vignette briefly descends into the consciousness of one of roughly 50 characters, all of whom are connected by the fact that they are watching a movie in AMC Theater #10 at the Mall of America, the Bloomington, Minnesota monstrosity that, with 520 stores, an indoor amusement park, and a walk-through aquarium, is purported to be the largest mall in the country.

It's an apt setting for a book that attempts to understand how Americans today process the ever more information-rich world around them. Rather than organizing his book around a discernable plot, Olsen makes an exploration of this idea the book's main attraction, including tiny clues in each vignette. Although some the vignettes are linked and some of the characters are visited more than once, most often we're left to develop our own connections between "shots."

By structuring 10:01 like a movie and setting the book during a movie screening, Olsen suggests that we make sense of the daily onslaught of mediated, superficial interactions by perceiving consciousness as little movies that run inside our heads. He reminds us that the typical movie consists of roughly 500-1,000 shots, paralleled in our own lives by the hundreds of advertisements and seemingly endless barrage of information we are subjected to each day. Olsen's book trades heavily in cinematic metaphors (e. g. comparing the rapid eye motions that make up perception to the flicker of frames during a screening), and throughout the book film techniques are adapted into literary equivalents, such as heading each vignette with the minute, second, and hundredth of a second at which it takes place.

The vignettes themselves range from surreal, to bizarre, to comical, to stream of consciousness, to poignant, perhaps duplicating our daily range of sensory input. Like the many pieces of information leveled at our precious senses, some of the vignettes are more enjoyable than others, but part of the pleasure in reading Olsen's book is that—good or bad—we know that we'll soon move on to the next hit. In a longer book with longer sections, Olsen's style might have become tiresome, but at a brisk 190 pages, 10:01, like a chaotic, quick trip through a busy mall, never has the chance to drag.

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