March 10, 2011


by Tao Lin
202 pages, Melville House Publishing Fiction

Review by Marc Nash

Sorry, Daddio, but I just didn't dig your gig, you dig? Maybe it's because I'm a couple of decades older than the 24-year-old author. Clearly he is a man of fierce intellect and I extend him some props for trying to bust a cap into the bloated corpulence of modern literature, but this just didn't cut it for me. It's a book with virtually no movement in it, all to make a point about disconnectedness. Its characters seem marginally better able to communicate remotely by txt and g-chat than when physically together in the same place. Even the sex is probably better remote than in person. Meh. The problem with writing about a certain lack of articulation is that it makes for dull literature which relies on articulation, in'it?

A mid-twenties below mid-list writer, feckless other than in his vegetarianism and militant shop-lifting to bolster his meagre earnings as a writer, has a girlfriend still at school , chock-full of esteem issues including eating disorders, an overweening mother and a general inability to function in the world.

At first their relationship is quite tender. They are fumbling around trying to establish one another's boundaries, exploring one another with little indication of their frailties. But—and maybe here it does reflect the endemic ennui that sets in with familiarity—it actually turns rather nasty to my mind as the boy becomes clearly dominant. It is presented under the guise of him wanting to help her with her neuroses, but he is too flawed himself to amount to much more than just wanting to change her, period. I think the relationship is actually completely exploitative, though others may disagree. It's a reflexive exploitation, since he doesn't seem to have much of a game plan or agenda by which he is operating from. It's somehow like a kid who rolls over a stone, finds some bugs and idly pokes at them with a stick to see how they react under his power.

So what exactly is revolutionary about this 'daring' novel? I suppose it is the language. And though indeed there is a whiff of authenticity about the aimless exchanges between the characters; think the Tarantino soliloquies in "Pulp Fiction," only without even the focus of a burger with cheese, it begins to weary the reader. "They went upstairs into someone's room. Haley Joel Osment (like the Richard Yates of the title, hermetically sealed gag so as to appear random) sat on the edge of the bed and Dakota Fanning (see what I mean?) stood facing him. 'What did you do between 10:00 and 4:00?' he said after about ten seconds". If it's forensic precision about life, I prefer early Nicholson Baker. If it's teenage angst you want, read "Catcher In The Rye" and "L'Etranger". This adds nothing to those portraits.

I think it does come down to the language though. Every ten or fifteen pages, one or other of the two main characters threatens to commit suicide. Of course they have no intention of doing so, it has become denuded to a mere expression of displeasure or discomfort. Now there is a book about such a journeying of language, of disarticulation, whereby a huge emotional statement has become diminished currency so as to sacrifice most of its emotional impact. But this book merely reproduces the language. It gives little indication of the journey that language and emotions have undergone to render us in such a sorry state. And that's why for me, I won't be reaching for others in Lin's oeuvre.

Marc Nash

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