It’s always interesting to come across a book that breaks with accepted form conventions because this is something literature experts typically warn against, since mostly such experimentation doesn’t work. TEN PAST NOON: Focus and Fate at Forty, on the other hand, is a creative hybrid of history, alongside a deep-dive biography into the life of Edward Dilworth Cumming–supported by an extensive bibliography and interwoven betwixt the personal opinions of author Tucker Lieberman–offered in intricate essays, both rambling and brief.
In quoting from works such as Robert M. Pirsig’s Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, Lieberman instructs readers to stop examining the sand in favor of shifting attention to the place “from which the sand is taken” as he whisks the audience away on a ‘train trip’ that spans tracks 1 – 40, starting with an old, unfinished, unpublished Cumming’s manuscript Lieberman is able to study at a New York library Rare Book Reading Room, and then accompanying the book’s audience towards tidbits such as the detail that in Bogotá, Colombia his husband has been busily writing an alternative history novel “in which the United States never existed.”
Confusing? Yes, sometimes this non-fiction volume does feel a bit convoluted. But it is also expansive, and readers should prepare to have their perceptions blown on more than one occasion. To begin, Lieberman introduces readers to the fact writer Cumming had embarked upon the writing of a book entitled Eunuchry during the Great Depression in order to shed light on the lives of the then not-well-understood eunuchs–castratos–men who had been castrated, whom today we might know as part of the current transgender community/movement. No one knows why Cumming produced a handwritten first draft comprised of 19 loose-leaf binders containing a book based on this topic or why he later committed suicide, but Lieberman attributes his own draw towards this subject to the reality that he himself transitioned to a new gender in the late 1990s when there were few resources available and transgender-identified people yearned for more. However, the book does not confine itself to exploring eunuchs. It also delves into the “workings of whiteness“/racism, themes such as free will and what might compel someone talented to take his own life and, of course, as aligned with the book’s structure, a history of trains.
TEN PAST NOON: Focus and Fate at Forty by Tucker Lieberman is not a book that everyone will necessarily like–or get. But this thoughtful, multi-layered biography might be just the ticket for readers looking to be taken on a journey unlike anything else.
~C.S. Holmes for IndieReader