Book Review: Tao Lin’s Richard Yates, Shoplifting at American Apparel, and Bed

By Vaman Tyrone X

Richard Yates.   Tao Lin.   New York: Melville House, 2010.   208 pp.

Shoplifting from American Apparel.   Tao Lin.   New York: Melville House, 2009.   112 pp.

Bed.   Tao Lin.   New York: Melville House, 2007.   278 pp.

David Foster Wallace concluded “E Unabus Pluram” with the hope that one day, a writer, bilingual in both irony and sincerity, would be able to engage a post-ironic audience without need of the essentially terminal narrative armaments his postmodern forefathers bequeathed her (or him).   And if Tao Lin has one gift, it is a biplanar ability to convince a generation of sincerity-starved young men and women to embrace his realist, single-entendre fiction while convincingly presenting himself as the inveterately hip jester of the online-spawned lit scene.   Replete with single quotes, unblinking unseriousness, the word ‘bro,’ and punk-y shots at the corporate literary edifice, Lin’s very funny, very “self-aware” Internet presence is a signal to MacBook owners the world over that he is, most importantly, one of them.[1]   Lin’s fiction and poetry, replete with a baseline sadness, blips of absurdity, and a monastic commitment to personal truth, has the freshly coined and postmodernity-prescribed ability to seize the techno-catatonic comment-section dwellers who were repulsed or charmed enough by online Lin to face a set of his sentences and make abundantly clear that, yes, he does know what it’s like to exist online yet have to honestly live offline.

The above claims may necessitate taking a teleological view of his oeuvre and chalking up his early dolphin-, Werner Herzog-, and Elijah Wood[2]-based fiction to “youthful experimentation” that necessarily precipitated Shoplifting from American Apparel and its superior pre-/se-quel Richard Yates.[3]   Going further back into Lin’s career reveals not the wholly secure-in-style, just-got-inked-by-Bill-Clegg Lin but a lonelier, younger writer who wants to amalgamate his influences to form something of literary value and is not quite ready to jettison the notion of ‘literary value’ with a few flippant scare-quotes and ignore the siren calls to be an Asian American Murakami or an absurdist Lorrie Moore.

Firstly, it’s worth noting that Lin is hated by vast numbers of reasonable people who exist both on- and offline in varying proportions, and that there are certain obstacles which prevent the average reader from finishing, let alone liking, his work.   By calmly scaling said obstacles to understanding, we can appreciate what makes the apprehension of Lin’s signal through the noise worthwhile.


Before reading a word of Lin’s, one is faced with the all-pervasive multimedia beast that is the Tao Lin Perpetual Hype Machine.   Dismissing Lin’s online presence as entertaining, if annoying (or annoying, if entertaining) self-promotion seems to be the dominant response.   In truth, Lin’s tweets, tumbls, and blog posts are much more than just marketing.   His online presence serves as a metatext in a way that few others do.   Lin publishes poems as blog posts, Gchats as stories, and chapbooks as a series of HTML pages.[4]   Lin is so open and platform agnostic that the traditional frame surrounding his texts is dissolved in such a way that discomfits the traditionalists as the young shrug in agreement.[5]   Consider his publication of emails that show him pushing back against a particularly cloying editor who wanted to radically alter his work[6] or his dry mockery of n+1 for “shit-talking” McSweeney’s.[7]   His online presence can be characterized as an endless series of title pages, introductions, and bios that allow the reader to consume his literary output without questioning his authority or his (hypothetical) intentions.   Before the average Internet-bred reader opens the cover of RY or SFAA, she or he has likely already witnessed Lin on everything from Formspring to HTML Giant disassemble the notion that he can be considered ‘good’ or ‘technically competent’ or even that such ‘judgments’ are ever worth making given the lack of definable goals and contexts in art.   If I had approached RY blindly, it is very likely I would have found Lin’s naming his protagonists Haley Joel Osment and Dakota Fanning either precious or mildly disturbing, considering that the novel’s most obvious tension is the moral uncertainty inherent in 22-year-old, depressed Osment’s relationship with 16-year-old, depressed Fanning.   Instead I found myself miming Lin and thinking calmly something like, “Of course he would use the ‘find and replace’ function in Microsoft Word to rename them Dakota Fanning and Haley Joel Osment.”   To put it simply, there isn’t much pomo fretting in Lin’s work because he gets all the preliminaries out of the way on his own terms through hyper-text transmissions, leaving the ink on dried pulp liberated.


A tangentially related potshot at Lin is that he is a “human meme,” a walking, typing gimmick who routinely and unjustly captures milliseconds of the cultural hivemind’s time through his not-all-that-clever stunts.   Almost every reviewer has implied that the title Richard Yates[8] is an attention-grabbing misnomer.   Consider, though, that even as far back as 2007, in the epistolary novella/RY-companion piece Hikikomori, Lin wrote to writer Ellen Kennedy:

i found a picture of richard yates on the internet.   i think i like him.   what is his email?   maybe he is a hikikomori also?   he looks like he has a very good hotplate.[9]

Of course, Lin was a very different writer then, still holding that the answer to anomie lay in lo-fi surreality:

richard yates visited me last night in a UFO.   when i left my room at 4 a.m. to run to the convenience store to pick up some hotplate accessories.

He wrote an entire (and earnest) essay about Yates’ oeuvre four years before RY was published.[10]   Is it really okay to begrudge Lin the right to name his novel after an under-appreciated literary figure that clearly has meant something to him?   Or maybe it’s just a more admirable enterprise to protect a now-canonical realist author from Lin’s digital-fame grubbing?   The subtext to every sub-positive response to Lin’s work and accompanying personal brand seems to be twofold: (1) “I could write that.   I know how to not pile on subordinate clauses too” and (2) “I could become as famous as him if strangers bought shares in my future novels, enabling me to sit, consume kale, and coin acronyms on Twitter.”[11]   Fortunately, Lin’s fiction can exist apart from such criticisms because the Lin-ean frame–the megabytes of service he has performed deconstructing ‘Tao Lin,’[12] his style, and his infamy-inducing act[13]–acts as a helpful buffer, letting Haley and Dakota wander safely in a traditional realist space without a self-consciously perspiratory narrator forcing them to confront the faults of their maker.


Book critics enjoy writing about how a certain author possesses “a top notch limning faculty that sweeps over ________” or that “________ delves into the knotty emotional geography of ______.”   When it comes to Lin, use of such metaphor becomes destructive when not handcuffed by scare quotes.   Lin’s recent “terrain” is slightly more current and just as circumscribing as the drab settings of the Kmart realists he adores: bedrooms (in the city or elsewhere), supermarkets, libraries, train stations, and maybe an occasional Whole Foods or American Apparel.   These places and the people within them are presented with little to no exposition or, more importantly, rhetoric.   One gets the distinct impression that Lin, like any good Beckett flâneur, would prefer to navigate only from his sleeping quarters to the library or the sleeping quarters of girls with whom he engages in vague, dispassionate sex acts.[14]   Thus he sees fit to offer objects and ‘facts’ without accompanying opinions and analyses.   For those who prefer their fiction with more Baker than Balzac, such a narrow personal consciousness is more an asset than a liability.   The typical comment-thread antipathy towards Lin stems from the fact that he doesn’t fulfill our urbane, college-educated, middle-to-upper-class expectations: we generally want writers who could pass for sociologists or historians because we want to learn about our more interesting neighbors and feel smart while doing it.   And we think a certain degree of mental mastication ought to be necessary for sentences to announce themselves as Literature.  In retrospect, it seems as if the dialogues between Franzen, DFW, Moody, Euginides, Vollman, and all the people who’ve panned them in print over the role of the systems novel and the avant-garde could not be less relevant in the syntactically supine context Lin and his contemporaries have carved out for themselves.   In a review of Noah Cicero’s The Condemned, Lin offers a concrete-literal dictum–“If you write factually, directly, and honestly on any subject matter, the consequences of that subject matter will become clear and the reader will be able to act accordingly”–and a more pointed, Pynchon-directed dismissal:

When you use more words than it takes it’s analogous to going up to someone you don’t know and saying, I’m going to start talking for a while about things that don’t mean anything.   You’re going to listen.   Then standing there talking.   That’s what it’s like when you write a 1,000 page book.[15]

What Lin does share with the postmodernists who defiled the tender agreement between the writer and the reader to not acknowledge the existence or true nature of the other is the ability to provoke.   Lin does it by disposing of our more tacit, genteel notions for reading contemporary fiction.   Thus charges that Lin’s writing belongs on the autism spectrum[16] or lacks any quantum of ‘literary merit’ are freely levied.   His books will not improve your vocabulary,[17] tell you very much about The Way We All Live Now,[18] or provide you with bon mots for a posteriori retrieval and quotation.[19]   Lin’s fiction is a singularly designed delivery mechanism, the sole purpose of which is to render noumenon from Lin’s consciousness discernible and clear.

This challenge to formal literary interpretation is self-serving in that it is part of the aforementioned online metatext that places Lin’s fiction in a necessarily unimpeachable light.   His notion of criticism based in personal experience of the text and search for clear points of overlap between the reader’s consciousness and the writer’s, if fully accepted, might allow us to ignore not only the barely-a-heartbeat-left Critical Theory apparatus but also the insufficiently ignored and implicitly formalist New York Times Book Review and lead to a more egalitarian, less metaphysical notion of what makes something “good” or “bad.”[20]   For example, my immediate reaction as a critic to parsing some of Lin’s early material was something along the lines of, “This is undercooked.   Lin has yet to form a philosophy to anchor his choices.”   I also felt the urge to ‘condemn’ “Richie” from Today the Sky is Blue and White with Bright Blue Spots and a Small Pale Moon and I Will Destroy Our Relationship Today for being stylistically flimsy and write about Lin’s failure to capture a voice and context dissimilar to his own.   When I think of what Lin might think reading these assessments, I become deeply embarrassed, remembering how difficult it is to play by his rules and how much an English education leaves one unprepared to encounter his directly felt prose.   I’m left with scraps: as a critic/god, I have the objective right to judge negatively, I guess.


 Perhaps it’s easiest to explain why (1) RY is my favorite of Lin’s work and (2) why I feel the need to label it his ‘best.’   (2) is a bit more difficult to explain.   I hold on to my deep, neurofibril recognition of shared experience when reading all of RY and some of Lin’s earlier, funnier, plainly sad fiction.   He writes about century-old existential aphorisms in a heavily localized and precise way that people between the ages of fifteen and thirty-five of a certain temperament and taste find refreshingly unique and true.

On the last page of Hikikomori, Ellen Kennedy writes, “dear tao, I feel lonely too.”[21]   On the sixty-fourth page of Hikikomori, Lin writes that there are three types of love songs, his favorite type “about how life is sad and people are disappointing.” [22]   It is in the gap between Kennedy’s expression of shared anomie and Lin’s statement that people are disappointing where RY ultimately takes hold.

There are certain properties of Lin’s work that make his prose feel “translated.”   Much of it reads as if a translator could not find an English equivalent to some murky foreign word and simply decided to reduce the discourse to an atomic level.   Hence one is presented with descriptions like, “I’m more alone than you,” “I feel severely depressed,” “I feel kind of sad,” and “We are fucked.”   The flatness emanating here is a function of the atomic nature[23] of the descriptors and what these descriptors represent.     The World is essentially meaningless if it can be reduced to such small, simple things, and all the abstractions and clichés constructed to make our phenomenological experience a bit more bearable pale before the essential truth of these irreducible emotional states.   That’s how a charitable reading of the gray reductionism of the prose would go.   An uncharitable interpretation would require only two words: “Can’t write.”

If you’ve ever been in a relationship with someone who hates him or herself more than he or she likes you, then there will likely be a deep, neuron-bridging synaptic shock of recognition when you come to learn that Fanning is both bulimic and a cutter, that she has lied semi-constantly throughout the book to Osment (and by extension, you), and that promises of change and self-progress are empty, abstract, and serve solely to suck more attention and ‘love’ from Osment (and by extension, you).   The conflict in the relationship arises from Osment’s attempt to throw a lifeline down the void between language and action:

Dakota Fanning was apologizing many times a day and then writing in a Moleskine notebook what she did wrong, why it was wrong based on what she wanted in life, how she wanted to act in the future.   Haley Joel Osment sometimes said something wasn’t written correctly and she would rewrite it…Haley Joel Osment became upset if she did not do something new and concrete…to help her change.[24]

There is one and only one hard-earned dictum here: “Haley Joel Osment said that people probably needed to do concrete things in order to change, not just say they will change.”[25]   Here, to my mind, the novel appears to coalesce, and both Murakami and Lin’s privileging of the concrete becomes clearer.

Abstractions such as “sorry” and “change” are useful if and only if they are tied to concrete actions on the part of the utterer.   Osment, who cares for Fanning, attempts to stop the suffering and damage she causes herself and the relationship by returning to the concrete, hoping that making her make her actions as real as possible can break through the meniscus of empty language distancing them.   Extrapolating one level higher, Lin’s reliance on the concrete/literal style in writing about a character he admits is essentially him is a way to bring the text as close to his mental representations of his experience as possible.[26]   The concrete/literal style seems intended as an antidote to all the emptiness of abstractions and, in this case, false promises cluttering one’s consciousness.

Osment and Fanning met on the Internet.   They are members of the only recently birthed set: {all couples whose online representations of their feelings and who they are is in direct conflict with who they are offline and what they feel offline}.   Osment and Fanning’s relationship began with immaterial, digital representations of who they were.   Osment attempts to introduce concrete reality into their lives because when they interact now they do so as real people–with off-line feelings–and not as Gchat names whose existence can stay electrically framed.   Osment is on the sturdy side of a crumbling bridge but concrete language, real actions, and comprehension of the other’s mental states can’t stop a foundational rot.[27]   And that, dear disbelieving formalist, is why Lin’s simple concrete/literal style is both sincerely wrought and very apathy-defogging to all those struggling to deal with the “hollowness” of the online and offline representations we simultaneously digest and secrete.

Eventually Osment and Fanning’s conversations devolve into Osment repeating the question, “What else did you lie about?” and becoming increasingly upset with every answer.[28]   Earlier in the text, Fanning’s disapproving mother diagnoses the pair as “[depressives] feeding off each other.”[29]   It’s here that I double back and qualify my claim that Lin can’t be appreciated in the same way we traditionally appreciate most writers with the exception of Haruki Murakami.   Both Lin and Murakami are parttime surrealists who iterate exhaustively until boy meets/searches for girl/cat to various degrees of reader satisfaction.


With RY and SFAA lodged in my head, I read 2007’s short story collection Bed, enjoying how Tao plays with the abstractions of of late capitalism (“Middle America,” “terrorism,” “the economy”) and injects them with an appropriate amount of absurdity.   His default stance is incomprehension, of an observer unable and unwilling to put the dominant buzzwords of the Bush era in a context that makes sense.

The second story in Bed, “Three-Day Cruise,” cleverly begins by buffeting the reader with naturally occurring, tragic Kmart realism elements (euthanasia, cancer, car crash, post-traumatic shell-of-herself living) and then rewinding.   By RY, the all-around skewed, not-really-from-Kmart realism makes the discrepancy between Lin’s empathy towards his male versus his female characters much more understandable.   One of the more readily discernible techniques that may cause one to label Tao’s work “avant-garde” is his oft-mimicked use of detail as a means of obfuscation rather than illumination.   Aside from being an a priori feature of the concrete/literal style, Lin’s way of leaving implicit the gaps in Sam’s interactions with women in SFAA evokes a slippery sense of romantic incomprehension.   Sam’s declaration “I’m pretty sure I feel happy around [Hester]” somehow leads to Hester pleading, “What’s wrong?…You’re being quiet…I can tell something’s wrong” and ends with “Sam [questioning] Hester existentially…Sam left the apartment…and didn’t agree at all with anything he had said.”[30]   This inability to form and keep a coherent causal chain carries over to RY’s Osment:

Haley Joel Osment said he had to think about different people to stay aroused for a long time.   Dakota Fanning was quiet and then said she needed to pee and left the bed.   A few hours later…it was light outside.   They had not slept.   Haley Joel Osment was crying a little with his arms by his sides.[31]

This feels simple and right in comparison to Bed’s “Sincerity,” a story leadened by metaphor and clinical study:

Their quarrels–they had always fought–took on a tone of mocking and farce.   Sometimes, now, fighting with Alicia, both of them yelling–shrieking at times, and crying, even, like babies!–something in Aaron would scald white and clean, like a flash pasteurization[…]   She cut him once with a fork…their fights increased noticeably in frequency and lies when they spent more than one consecutive night together, and though, Aaron knew, they did not really love each other, not anymore, maybe not ever.[32]

Everything is on the canvas, too much even.   The narrator overbears and the female character inevitably ends up snapping the fragile bond holding together Lin-surrogate and girl.   With the strict, monastic concrete/literal style, any phallocratic bias that can be detected from very one-sided complaints (e.g., “He began to remember all the times that Kristy was late, all the times she promised not to be late anymore” and “I’m always trying to cheer you up…I’m always trying to make you laugh and you’re always depressed”) seem less immature and vindictive character creation and more can’t-help-it cognitive bias.   By adhering so purely to facts, Lin allows the reader to furnish a larger portion of the interpretation and blame-assignment.   It is the pixel-scale particulars of RY that, for me, do what the precipitate, Gen-X malaise of Bed cannot.

At times I also found myself clawing at the interior of some of Bed.   The following from “Sincerity” jarred:

some sleight of love, some trick of crush or inwardly thwarted desire, like a chemical seed; or else some boldly fraudulent expectation […] the stretched and meager thing of life…the distant and sincere art of it.   the soft and generous worthlessness of it all; having allowed to be massaged by the daily beating of life, instead of just beaten… turning of things inside, the loosening of it all […] He was thinking about showering–the hard-tiled attack of it, the soap always slipping away like an unrequited, mocking love.[33]

Because I worked my way through Tao in reverse order, beginning with SFAA and RY, I had an asynchronous Dylan-goes-electric moment when I found this woozy, figurative discourse and the evergreen Lorrie Moore of it, twirling and windswept into some anaphoric, indefinite-articled paradox where the rising, falling, lilting, wafting, heavily punctuated syntax left me like a drunken neighbor on a moonstruck night, wondering why “the core of things–of love and life, of any simple feeling or thought–could no longer be experienced head-on, could no longer be thought of or felt directly, but only in trying, in tics and glimpses, in ways holographic and fleeing in the mind.”[34]   Parts of the afore-quoted are, of course, beautiful and may constitute an ‘achievement,’ but whatever aesthetic high-modernist pleasure they may provide by evoking the romantic half-laments in the periphery of every MFA candidate’s consciousness is undercut by how tired and easily parodied it all is.   I recognize that naked, plangent prose may, in fact, make Lin more like DFW’s famed anti-rebel, but I cringe at the tiredness of the ‘thing of ____’ construction and all the hand-me-down imagery and metonymy.   Let’s just say it’s an oscillating era in Lin’s work and I’m unsure of it in a way that I am not of SFAA and RY.[35]


It seems obligatory in this forum to mention that Tao Lin is, by the way, Asian American.   Lin shrugs off the label easily, explaining that he is less interested in books about race and more interested in books about existential issues.[36]   He even goes so far as to claim that he likes upper-middle class, white writers (and contexts) because they, freed from the marketplace obligation to even consider race, get at what it means to be human and die rather than what it means to be a ______ human.

Still, the influence of Murakamis Ryu and Haruki looms large over Lin’s work.   There is something weird on a first-order irrational and perceptual level about the glaring influences in early Tao and why these even matter to the reader.   Perhaps it has something to do with the notion that Lin’s work arrives unbidden, produced by a Tao Lin-bot who writes and speaks with the precision and inflection of a Turing machine.

I’m also willing to admit a couple of other charges may hold.   It does seem to people who don’t share his worldview as if Lin is flaunting his vegan, technologically savvy, confident-in-all-consumer-choices ways.   It is hard to read his books sometimes as things other than exercises in conspicuous consumption.   In titling his novella SFAA, he invites those like him in on the joke.   I find the means he provides for his audience to identify with him as similarly Internet-literate bohemians irrelevant.   If it weren’t printing up Britney Spears stickers, it would be name-dropping Pessoa.[37]   At this point, there is no authentic. All that counts is that the generation(s) immediately preceding the one that feels the (understandable) need to re-blog IDGAF in fifteen different typefaces finds a way to GAF about the life and times of easily mockable Internet mavens Sam, Dakota, and Haley.


In a reader’s guide to Ryu Murakami’s Almost Transparent Blue, Tao imagines Murakami’s purpose as follows: “I am going to write a book in past-tense first-person.   To do this I am going to occupy the perspective of a narrator.   I will allow the narrator to have the same memories I have, but I’m willing to change or not change those memories for whatever reason, I think.”   It’s here that we arrive at the uncomfortable-to-some issue of what resemblance Haley Joel Osment and Dakota Fanning bear to Tao Lin (b. 1983) and Ellen Kennedy (b. 1989).   After reading through nearly everything Lin has written and perusing nearly everything he has helped produce, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that RY is an almost chronologically exact mirror of his life in 2006.[38]   In fact, the issue of RY as a roman à clef became a mild wellspring of controversy when The Stranger reported on a conflict between Lin and his publisher regarding the borderline statutory rape[39] RY evokes so ‘well.’[40]   We have finally happened upon one of the more conventional pleasures of RY and, to a degree, SFAA.   Even the most sophisticated readers, those who can point out which sections of the Tractus that The Broom of the System stems from, can’t help but resist exhuming DFW’s fiction, especially “The Depressed Person” and “Good Old Neon,” for evidence of the monochrome fires raging through his head as he wrote.   Similarly, I reached a certain tabloid-intimacy by reading RY as a glimpse into the left-open mind of Tao.   Lin has written that he reads in order

to learn about another human’s unique experience from reports they’ve made themselves while excitedly aware that they alone, regardless of what others are thinking or doing, have access to what they’re reporting upon.[41]

And for all of the bald self-promotion and thrusting his personal life into the maw of the Internet,[42] there still remains a part of Lin that is oddly distant, unable to be apprehended from a few tweets or hour-long documentaries he makes on his MacBook.   This shadowed corner of self, of depression, disappointment, loss, and emotional co-dependency, beyond the mere facts of the words that I saw in the kerning of RY and the core of Bed, made everything else I had to read worth it.   Lin takes the reader to small, painful places, adorning the way with both miscellany and the un-frivolous, all but forcing a cool audience to read his books as he intends, without any of the creature comforts and amenities of modern literary fiction.   That we can set aside all the carefully orchestrated framing and metatext Lin provides to value his work on its own essentially un-cool, wounded terms, stands as the clearest testament yet that nothing can kill the novel in the 21st century except the impetus to write, think, and read as we always have.

[1] See Tao Lin’s “The Levels of Greatness A Fiction Writer Can Achieve in America,” the Stranger, 27 Nov. 2007.

[2] Tao Lin, “Excerpt: Eeeee Eee Eeee,” 3:AM Magazine, 18 Apr. 2007.

[3] Shoplifting for American Apparel (SFAA) was released first, in 2009, but it appears that Richard Yates (RY), published in 2010, addresses a period in Lin’s life immediately preceding SFAA.

[4] See for instance Lin’s Today the Sky is Blue and White with Bright Blue Spots and a Small Pale Moon and I will Destroy Our Relationship Today.   The web weaves through his oeuvre seamlessly to the point that oral communication and instant messaging receive the same epistemic footing in his work, as Lin himself discusses in the essay “Only Connect: Blogs and the Vertical Integration of Consciousness.   Or Whatever,” Poetry Foundation, 13 Mar. 2009.

[5] See John Frow’s “The Literary Frame,” Narrative Dynamics. Ed. Brian Richardson (Columbus: Ohio State UP, 2002), 333.   The traditional literary frame is both ontological, separating the aesthetic from the non-aesthetic and literal, title pages, margins, etc.   We seem to be dealing with something different here.



[8] The un-charmingly antediluvian Charles Bock writing for the Times: “Tao Lin’s short new novel, ‘Richard Yates,’ has little to do with the man it was named for, the author of ‘Revolutionary Road’ and ‘The Easter Parade.’   Instead, Yates’s name appears both as a provocation–to showcase Lin’s quirky nature–and as an attempt at appropriation.”   Charles Bock, “Young Love,” The New York Times, 24 Sept. 2010.

[9] Tao Lin and Ellen Kennedy, Hikikomori.   As will become clear later on, there is an equivalence between the Tao/Ellen and Haley Joel Osment/Dakota Fanning relationship.


[11] e.g., the indescribably useful “ufsi”

[12] All future interviewees ought to ape this:

[13] See Christian Lorentzen’s “Tao Lin Will Have the Scallops,” The New York Observer, 18 Aug. 2010.

[14] Richard Yates, 25.   Bed, 133.

[15] Tao Lin, “Review of Noah Cicero’s The Condemned,” the outsider’s book review, Sept. 2006.

[16] See Zach Baron’s “The Problem with Tao Lin,” The Village Voice Books, 8 Sept 2010.

[17] See McCarthy, Cormac (b. 1933) or Wallace, David Foster (b. 1962).

[18] See Franzen, Jonathan (b. 1959).

[19] See Amis, Martin (b. 1949), Dyer, Geoff (b.1958), or any British novelist ever.

[20] It’s worth pointing out that this is a function of the lit scene Lin is the ringleader of.   Members of any scene, be it musical, literary, or theatrical, tend to find ways to boost each other.   Lin’s “there is no good or bad in art” conveniently blankets the much ‘weaker’ writing of his some of the people he publishes under a protective coating of indeterminacy.



[23] I’m using “atomic” in the logical sense, i.e., no binary connectives, only true or false, easily grasped, meaningful.

[24] RY, 148.

[25] RY, 148.

[26] One finds the admission in an interview with Kelley Hoffman for Interview Magazine:

[27] Doubly satisfying is the fact that Lin’s psychological realism is now being confirmed as reaching McEwan-level accuracy: “People suffering from depression have a tendency towards unhelpful abstract thinking and over-general negative thoughts, such as viewing a single mistake as evidence that they are useless at everything.   Concreteness training (CNT) is a novel and unique treatment approach that attempts to directly target this tendency.   Repeated practice of CNT exercises can help people to shift their thinking styles.”   “Training in ‘Concrete Thinking’ Can Be Self-Help Treatment for Depression, Study Suggests,” Science Daily, 17 Nov. 2011.

[28] RY, 156-8.   The culmination is Fanning’s six-page-long mea culpa email that’s rock bottom all-around.

[29] RY, 73.   Awkward postmortem: the real problem was that the feeding was parasitic instead of symbiotic, with Osment falling into the so-wrong-for-him role of hectoring, shrill authority, finding scars under longsleeved shirts and tracing each lie to its inception, left with nowhere to hang his own pain.

[30] SFAA, 72.

[31] RY, 129

[32] Bed, 90.

[33] Bed, 129-30.   So much better is the precisely tuned-to-90s-emo story “Sasquatch”: “Before going home, she drove around a while–singing along to songs, not thinking anything at all, and with the windows down, to let a wind at her face–so that her dad wouldn’t see that she had been crying” (275).

[34] Bed, 193.

[35] I’ve glossed over a lot of pre-SFAA Lin and I feel badly about this, so let me say that Lin’s poetry, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (Melville House, 2008) and you are a little bit happier than I am (Action Books, 2006), knocked me out on average one out of every three or five poems.   Eeeee Eee Eeee (Melville House, 2007) I liked on the aggregate, and since Lin adores pharmaceuticals, I’ll liken it to adderall, Bed to Xanax, and RY/SFAA to Oxycodone.

[36] Says Lin: “I think focusing on race in any manner that isn’t neutral or self-aware probably increases racism.   If I wrote a book about being Asian, instead of being a person, I would feel like I was openly doing things to increase my own racism and other people’s racism, I think.”   “Tao Lin: They See Me Trolling,” Brightest Young Things, 4 Feb. 2011.

[37] And how can you fault him for this: “‘A Portuguese author,’ the moose said.   The bear slapped the moose.   ‘Who hasn’t read this person?’ Shawn said loudly.   Everyone had read Fernando Pessoa.”   Eeeee Eee Eeee, 104.

[38] i.e., the use of ‘Richard Yates’ both as a non-sequitor and to refer to the author of The Easter Parade; the coining of the terms “cheese beast” and “party girl”; dealing with a mother who likes Nicholas Sparks novels and can’t understand ‘depressing fiction.’   And here’s an ‘actual’ rendering of Ellen-Tao entirely within the universe of Hikikomori, Eeeee Eee Eeee, and RY:

[39] According to this interview–“An Interview with Tao Lin,” Bookslut, May 2007.–Lin was originally going to title the book Statutory Rape.

[40] See Christopher Frizzelle’s “Nighstand: Confronting Tao Lin’s Publisher, Part One,” the Stranger, 21 June 2011.

[41] Tao Lin, “Does the Novel Have a Future?   The Answer Is In This Essay!” The New York Observer, 19 Apr. 2011.