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Unedited feelings on Tao Lin and Tao Lin’s Richard Yates.

September 7, 2010 \am\30 11:25 am

[I began trying to write a review of Tao Lin's new book, Richard Yates, and realized that I couldn't. I kind of hate standard reviews, I don't know, so I was taking notes of my thoughts while I read it. Here they are, if you're interested. I didn't edit them other than to correct spelling errors and add clarifying links.]

I have not read any of Tao Lin’s other books. I have read, I think one story that was available online which I liked, and several of his interviews, essays, blog posts, etc. over a period of maybe two or three years.

I guess he is a sort of marketing genius. when I emailed him to ask for a review copy, I realised that though I have never emailed him before, I knew his email address by heart. In my head I see it as ‘paypal binky [dot] tabby [at] gmail [dot] com’. This can be annoying (like when he tweets fifteen times in an hour) but normally I am not bothered. I just don’t pay attention to things that don’t interest. i think I have become really good at ignoring consumer culture and mass commercialism lately. I am living-under-a-rock-girl to the extent to which you can be today, so not a whole lot but enough to keep me sane/happy-ish maybe.

I wanted to read Tao Lin’s new novel, Richard Yates, because I read and lovedtodeath Noah Cicero’s The Insurgent and they (Noah and Tao, not the books) are linked somehow in my mind (through writerblog folklore I suppose).

Okay, I think that is the extent of my context.

Think it helps somewhat if you know the way Tao Lin reads or speaks. I have seen video of him reading the whale poem, therefore could hear the monotone in my head and follow his voice easily as I read this book. everything is so plain that it takes almost no effort to follow, which is i guess why a lot of teens like it.

First thought on the first page: groan re: names. no specific reason, just meh. however, by the second page i was interested thanks to the characters’ fuckedness.

The gchats feel very real, even though you might think ‘people don’t talk like that’ there is something about gchat that makes everyone sound depressed or morose (maybe it’s the short sentences?), it also makes you open to being more vulnerable. everything is surreal because you say things that you know can’t happen and things that can, sometimes in the same breath, but there is unspoken awareness of the limits hopefully if the other understands

pace feels quick

initially felt these characters are dumb, but actually they are just young and then remember doing the same types of things or having similar feelings when i was young too and still now certain thoughts/feelings about meaninglessness and lack of direction, etc.

the characters have depth, regardless of the flat tone. i believe them and what they do and think. just not so sure i am interested in what they are doing. i am interested in their relationship, but don’t really care about them eating at congee village or shoplifting from american apparel (hehe) but i think this will serve as some kind of historical record of this time in america. what kids in other parts of the world get to do this kind of thing? even kids in europe i don’t think are as disaffected but also coddled or something and where will this lead?

feeling a little bored listening to the children go on

thankful that tao is brave to show weakness/stupidity (for example, when they are talking about pregnancy) seems like that’s how it really happens, like with a clouded judgment, limited knowledge of facts on which to base decisions, inability or no motivation to seek out facts, etc

maybe a good book for parents to read for insight

after a while the names ‘dakota’ and ‘haley’ have like dissolved – they could be any name, also that they are child stars and i am seeing the characters as children? when child stars grow up some part of you always thinks of that child and that is happening with these characters maybe, like they are growing up but the world still tries to treat them as children

kind of bored but not bored enough to stop reading
do want to know what happens, but seems like all that happens is ‘consumption’

and then sometimes i feel like i like the repetition, feels comfortable
like when they keep making plans, she keeps saying ‘come’ and then says a day like two days from ‘now’ and he says ‘i won’t last that long’

wondering: if tao lin hadn’t written this, would it be as interesting? would it be as interesting (would i be as interested?) if it were purely fictional (like if, i don’t know, stephen king wrote it or something, someone who had no similarities at all with the characters?)

there is a lot of stealing which is making me think about the allure of stealing, how easy it is, how i’ve felt doing it, why i don’t do it, why people should or should not do it, whether i will do it again, why people who don’t technically need to do it do it, etc

feel like this is more judgmental of humans than i thought it would be, not saying the judgments are wrong, only in the sense that all judgment is wrong to some extent? not sure

wait what? feel confused re: american psycho killing rampages are imagined? i thought they were real (in the context of the story), weird, very confused

SPOILERS! can’t believe he ruins the ending to the piano teacher. wait. am i ruining ‘richard yates’ right now? haha

like halfway through

don’t know if i am enjoying this so much. i think i am halfway and keep thinking there are many things i like about it, but it doesn’t feel raw enough emotionally or something. hate to keep comparing it to noah, but when i read the insurgent every time there is a conversation between characters my heart hurts. my heart doesn’t hurt with this. it only hurt once i think. why do i need my heart to hurt? i don’t know. feels like i enjoy literature that makes my heart hurt.

[The next few paragraphs were written a few days later as i read the last third or fourth of the book in one sitting and i am in a weird emotional state, maybe more vulnerable and less analytical or less attempting some form of objectivity than earlier.]

i feel really sad about their relationship now. so much effort to communicate and so many ways to do it, email and chat and texts, and it just feels like the more you try to communicate and connect with other people, the more lonely and in darkness you are.

i understand why it’s called richard yates now maybe? at least i think its because, even though the relationship in revolutionary road for example, was about the same sort of disconnect, from the point of view of a man in a relationship, ultimately it was removed from my world (another era, a marriage and children) and so easier to deal with. because this book, tao’s richard yates, is in today’s world, it hits closer, i am feeling very depressed toward the end of the book.

not sure whether the minimalist style (so often the brunt of praise/criticism for tao) helps or hurts to communicate all the complex emotions behind this. feel like i don’t want to be cliche, but keep going back to the age thing, feel like older people won’t understand or relate as much. feel like this is why teens like tao’s writing. feel like an emotionally stunted retard. i have always been drawn to coming of age stories, teenage stories. it would take too long to explain my life and it wouldn’t make sense, but i am 32 and still talk about killing myself and still hurt myself the way the characters in this book do. that’s why their names are interchangeable with our names, like their names are just placeholders for us grown children.

i like this book. i didn’t want to like this book. i wanted to be above it intellectually like joshua cohen, whose review is a million times more precise and insightful and mean than my silly attempt to sum up the book for people. but i am not that smart. i am emotional and fragile and weak. ‘if you feel like this at all you might like to read this book too’ is the best anyone will get out of any review i ever write. i don’t feel like this is a waste of anyone’s time but i did consider that possibility

feel sad about how much disdain the characters have for old people and fat people and seemingly happy people or people that are just trying to be happy in shallow ways. reminds me of the elitist disdain in revolutionary road for the neighbors, the ‘normals’. it’s sad that people feel so alienated when they are acting out the same patterns just in different ways, using the coping methods taught to them by their environment and social forces, families etc. we are all just scared of death and change and feel alone.

i changed my mind. i don’t like this book. all the characters in this book are horrible. there is no empathy. in the insurgent by noah there is a lot of empathy. is that because the style is making me think that? their styles are supposed to be similar right? i think people said that. but i don’t find the styles similar that much. noah seems to have a lot of love and empathy for humans, his anger seems to stem from love, from not wanting to see people blindly hurting themselves all the time. tao seems to have disdain for people. maybe this is unfair because i don’t know him personally, i am just talking about how this book is making me feel.

i think it is a good book, i do like it, i’m glad i read it, it made me think very much about a lot of different things. i’m glad it has an index. seems sarcastic. i have never seen a sarcastic index. i love this book. it is great but i never want to read it again.

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3 Comments
  1. September 7, 2010 \pm\30 12:07 pm 12:07 pm

    Good review – and I like the way that, as I suspect most of Tao Lin’s typical characters would be, it doesn’t know quite whether to like it or hate it.

    I’ve never read a Tao Lin book. Or short story (oh, I think I might have read a short story – it obviously had a massive impact on me). Or poem. I undoubtedly should, in order to have a decent opinion on him. But, like you, I manage to stay fairly low down on the radar of commercial culture, and anything that is continually shouting at me in a commercial way turns me off. So it’s like I don’t need to read a Tao Lin book because I’ve heard so much about him that I don’t need to, and anyway I would have to ask myself whether I could even come to one of his books with a clear head any more, since we all know so much about him.

    Then there’s the language. The monotone. I guess I’m too old, too British, too middle-class to ever be Tao Lin’s target audience. I can see what you mean about his stuff being popular with teens, but I guess – in my very old-fashioned way – I somehow think what teenagers reading his stuff make of it. If they read people speaking in the same monotone way they employ in their daily conversations, are they going to be challenged to go on and read something a bit more – well, I can’t think of a better term – wordy, a bit more verbose? I hope so. But, y’know, kids today … *sighs, shakes head dismissively*

    In fact, maybe Tao Lin’s style has already rubbed off on too many of his age. As Joshua Cohen points out in his equally excellent review, the number of Lin hangers-on who write like him – and write reviews of his stuff in his self-same voice – is dreadful. I know imitation is the sincerest form of flattery but, really, give us a break.

    Or to put it another way:

    “Uh. Yeah. I feel like I don’t know what to say about this review.”

  2. September 7, 2010 \pm\30 12:09 pm 12:09 pm

    I am a Cognitive Behavioral Therapy loyalist. That book popped my head off. Return to poesy Tao!

    P.S. I wonder how he digests all that produce?

  3. September 26, 2010 \am\30 12:09 am 12:09 am

    This was thoughtful and useful to me in my own thinking-through of this novel.

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