I was going to review this book by reading either a Richard Yates novel or Gravityâs Rainbow again and then reviewing one of those. The motivation was that Tao Lin
wrote a book called Richard Yates
that only mentioned said author two or three times total. Is it willing obfuscation of the authorâs name or influence on the story or just artistic choice? Honestly, I donât give a ratâs ass, primarily because this book was atrocious. Whereas my glowing review of Linâs last book, Shoplifting From American Apparel
, focused on it as a look at the problems inherent with the hipster culture, this one will see why this book was so damn bad. And why I needed to think about it for a month after finishing it to write this.
To begin, Lin seems to be stuck in the second level of Kierkegaardian despair. His characters inhabit the same sphere of philosophical lacking, often wishing to be better people, often viewing themselves as being wastes of carbon and unworthy of the emotions they feel. Compare to Kierkegaardâs explanation of the second level: âThe despair that is conscious of being despair and therefore is conscious of having a self in which there is something eternal and then either in despair does not will to be itself or in despair wills to be itself.â Linâs characters in Richard Yates
all want to be different in some way, longing to change the shithole lives they lead. But when your main character is a mid-20s writer named Haley Joel Osment who is pining after an underage New Jersey bitch named Dakota Fanning, the reader cares not if their lives change. Similarly, Linâs prose has never been more staid and stale, resorting to the typical choppy structure that has led to critics both praising and deriding, a stylistic choice that often mars the text. While longer phrases can allow the chance to exposit, describe, or just feel the novel out, Linâs 140 character or less sentences often give the book the feeling of being bored of itself, desperate to shift to the next sentence out of ennui or perceived lack of interest. Similarly, the character movement is lacking. Much like how each sentence seems to be missing a component (like thought), the character development is lacking, resulting in a book that remains in its first act the entire time. If you have Netflix, go to their Instawatch and find a movie called GOOD DICK. Itâs an atrocious âquirky indie flickâ that never moves past its first act, a fitting parallel to Tao Linâs own fascination with lack of development. Similarly, the lead male commandeers the relationship while the lead female is, in some way, psychotic.
For all the fuss over organic food and stealing from Whole Foods to support the vegan lifestyle that modern living has afforded, Richard Yates
is pretty much as far away from a healthy book as you can get. Itâs a form of pure sugar, an ephemeral instance that doesnât nourish or afford substance and is a minor pleasure for a fleeting moment before it becomes too much of itself. This novel (a term I still struggle to justify using with thisâ¦thing) is an acrid read, pleasant enough for a few sentences before the lack of chapters and breaks (of which there are two) just get annoying and overpoweringly bad
. No characters here really want to move out of this level of despair either, it is worth noting, and that also makes the book drag on. Each time Osment tells Fanning to do anything it is met with meaningless okays that lead to the same goddamn place every time. If this is supposed to be an exploration of contemporary relationships and their inherent lack of change, you fucking failed Mr. Lin. Itâs a war of attrition with Dakota Fanning complaining and lying the entire time, effectively rendering her the least likeable mate possible for a dull and un-likeable lead. Yes, Haley Joel Osment is a character so dull that I thought he was made of drywall with constantly drying paint. Oooh, heâs a writer! Like Lin! Could this be another semi-autobiographical character? Wait, no, it isnât. This is just the only character Tao Lin seems to be able to write as of recent, seemingly in a place that forces him to make his male leads relate to the life he leads even if it makes no sense for the character (what underground writer lives on Wall Street?). For fuckâs sake, pull your characters together at least enough to make them different from your last book.
Is Lin just trolling us all? Does he mean what he says and writes, or is his entire career just an epic form of pranking? It seems that heâs written the same thing twice in a row with the names of the places and characters changed and the plot manipulated slightly. The man who gives poetry readings of the same phrase repeated for 15 minutes may no longer be able to hide behind the guise of his own âhumour.â I cannot say for sure that Lin is pulling the wool over our eyes, but this book was so damn boring and impossible to enjoy that I can only draw upon my own rage to summon a fractional rating.