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Ten by Joe Lyman, reviewed by Casey Dorman

Ten by Joe Lyman

Amazon Digital Services, 2012

Ten, the 2012 novel by Joe Lyman, is an unusual book for many reasons. It is too long to be considered a novella, but at least a hundred pages shorter than the typical novel. It begins as an intimate story of the daily lives of a normal middle class family and ends as a semi-horror story, worthy of Stephen King. It is a hard novel to pigeonhole. But despite, or perhaps even because of this unique quality to the book, it is highly absorbing, to the point of becoming one of those stories that is difficult to put down.

The leisurely pace and plain-talking narrative of the beginning of the book is masterfully done. One of my favorite writing styles, best exemplified by William Gibson’s Pattern Recognition, is the minimalist, ordinary-language sentence that seems to provide a precise mirror of the reality it is describing. Joe Lyman’s sentences, as he describes the daily life of 9 year old Dylan playing football in the street, his mother shopping, or his father tinkering in the garage, are each laid out carefully and with precision and economy. We are provided with a detailed picture of an American family with the assets and flaws that make the portrait seem real. Although the setting is today, I was reminded of my own childhood or the families of my childhood friends.

In the midst of this not idyllic, but decidedly pleasant family life, disaster strikes in the form of Dylan’s family’s uninsured home burning down and the story begins to take a turn toward the dark side. Dylan's mother becomes psychotically depressed. His father moves the family to a remote trailer park near the desert and only visits every few months. Dylan meets a gang of trailer park kids.

At the beginning of Dylan’s association with the other boys from the trailer park, we learn that they are secretive and can be cruel. Dylan, who has led a relatively protected middle class life up to the point his family moved to the trailer park, wrestles with the same issues of manliness, courage, pride and saving face that were issues, but minor ones, in his neighborhood football game but now are the determining factors in how he will be accepted by his new peers, and perhaps whether he will join them or be a victim of their violence.

Instead of engaging in delinquency or criminality, as one might expect for a group of poor boys, engaging mostly with each other and under no adult supervision (a situation reminiscent of Lord of the Flies), the boys, under the iron-handed leadership of Nico, the most powerful of them, play a ritualistic game of “war” each day. The game is played with toy guns in the middle of a dense forest near the trailer park. It is a mysterious game in which the lines between reality and imagination are blurred to the point of surrealism. We are unsure whether it is life-threatening or just a game.

Dylan goes through all the stages of hazing and finally acceptance into the group until he finally is not only a full-fledged member, but also a leader—strong enough to challenge Nico. I won’t give away the ending, but it is as surreal as the moments leading up to it.

Ten is a small book but it is a finely drawn picture that addresses childhood at multiple levels, taking the reader from the surface of childhood musings, to the deepest and darkest depths of fantasy. It is a highly original work from a talented writer. 


Ten is available in Kindle format at Amazon.com

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