Lance Olsen is a writer whose technical ingenuity is matched only by his fertility of invention and compassion for his characters. His novel 10:01 illustrates all these qualities beautifully.
Paul Di Filippo, Asimov's
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.
You're sitting in a darkened theater, waiting for the movie to begin when American culture explodes all around in I-Max, Surround-Sound, Technicolorthis is the experience of reading Lance Olsen's brilliant 10:01, a novel in frames that unreels the random thoughts of a random movie audience: a screening of our own moment that Olsen lights with the white heat of a projector beam.
All America comes to the Mall of America to settle in (or not) to one of its fourth floor theaters: to fantasize, to make their own films, to hide out, make out, freak out, speak out (to themselves, their cell phones, each other, their absent partners, to the world at large) in the voices of all America. In 10:01 these are the lost and lonely of Nathanael West's Hollywood in The Day of the Locust, crammed together in one small, dark place where "everyone is working off a script he doesn't have access to"; where, as in the movies, "life flies at us in bright splinters" and "reality feels so inadequate simply because you can't look at it through a frame like you can a movie." So caught up are these characters in the bizarre, fragmented, apocalyptic film of their own lives that they never get to the main feature, which is, of course, Lance Olsen's fine, penetrating novel.