What I Know About Tao Lin's Third Novel
Photo by Brea Souders
I don't remember when I first learned of the existence of Tao Lin's third novel. I think I just assumed it existed, in some form, due to Tao Lin seeming like a writer who is always working on "something" and, by the end of his career or death, will probably have written 30 to 40 books. After news broke that he had sold the rights to Vintage for $50,000 I decided to title a chapbook I had been working on (which I had previously referred to as a collection of "little bitch poems"), Tao Lin's Third Novel as a sort of gimmick, or just something that seemed funny to do. (It worked, if you could say that, as Tao took an interest and ordered a copy, then later published the work through Muumuu House.) In December of 2011 I received a package from Tao containing an unfinished draft of his third novel. It was about 30 pages, some double-sided, some not, printed from a Word document and stapled together. It was crinkled in some places and there were handwritten edits, the most prominent of which was to "insert FUCK AMERICA" (written above the beginning of the text on the first page). I was very impressed with the opening pages, which Tao said (somewhere) he has worked on for around 150 hours. I believe the novel is a fictionalized account of Tao's life from 2010 to 2011, or the majority of his relationship with Megan Boyle, which is the central event of the book. Most of the names had been changed, though some remained unchanged in my copy, with references to Brandon Scott Gorrell, Jordan Castro, Mallory Whitten, etc. throughout.
The novel begins with Tao [character’s name is “Paul”] waking up and then looking at the internet while in bed. It seems really funny to start a novel this way. I felt more interested while reading this than I had while reading the opening of either of Tao's previous novels.
The first section of the novel occurs, I think, immediately after finishing work on Richard Yates, which was expected to be a time Paul would use to relax and maybe "calmly organize things in his room," but ended up being a time of extreme drug use and almost constant "partying." A strong supporting character in this first section is "Daniel," who I think is based on someone named Thomas (though is probably more a composite of Thomas and one or more other people), due to various clues, such as an account of a party at Zachary German's apartment which had previously been written about by both Tao and David Fishkind on their respective blogs (at least one of which, Tao's, has been taken down) and also appears during this first section of the novel. I remember reading these accounts when they were first published on the internet. It seemed really funny and memorable due to Tao and Thomas' behavior at the party. Zachary was "being mean" and asked Thomas to leave, which prompted Tao to convince all of the other guests to leave with them. He then led the giant group of people somewhat aimlessly through the streets to an "other party," which maybe didn't exist. The group walked in the wrong direction before changing directions, and then everyone left. Red Bull Cola is mentioned, I think.
After the relationship between Paul and Megan Boyle [“Erin”] begins, the setting moves from New York to Baltimore, Las Vegas, Taiwan, Ohio, and Spain, I think, before ending in New York. In my copy, Las Vegas, Taiwan, and Spain were omitted.
There is an account of Paul and Erin doing an extreme amount of drugs, including Erin snorting cocaine off of Paul’s genitals while Paul films it (which had been previously tweeted about as it occurred), Erin serving Paul cocaine on an iPhone "platter" while Paul sits in a high-chair reading Siddhartha, Paul reciprocally serving Erin cocaine while she reads Nylon magazine, then Paul and Erin snorting cocaine off of frozen steaks and other objects. This precedes their first "drug fight." Before the "drug fight," I think, there is an account of Paul buying the drugs—like $500 worth—from two drug dealers who deliver. I felt envious while reading this part because I have never dealt with a drug dealer who delivers. The first of the two drug dealers is described:
"[…] Andrew, who Paul had bought from one other time before. Paul had said to Erin that time, about two months ago, that Andrew seemed like a person who didn't have many friends in high school and was sad-seeming and probably was made fun of for being fat in elementary school and middle school, but then was treated perhaps with a kind of respect, in a suburban high school somewhere, where the kids had gained the kind of empathy, in the later grades of high school, that comes with middle-to-upper-class upbringings. Paul had said he felt emotional and glad that Andrew now seemed to be in a position of power, control, and influence. Andrew was parked outside. His car seemed expensive."
Paul sits in the passenger seat of the drug dealer's car and buys drugs, then gets out of the car and goes back into his apartment building. Between the first and second drug dealer (the second is named "Peanut") Paul’s brother comes to see him and meet Erin. Paul asks Erin if she wants to meet his brother. Paul’s relationship with his brother seems strange, maybe, or not really. Appropriately distant, similar to my relationships with my brothers, I guess. Tao's brother is a successful graphic designer, I believe. When he visits in the novel, he gives Paul a bag which needs to be delivered to Taiwan, money (his Christmas present), and a winter jacket (at the assumed request of their parents), all of which seemed good and the transaction made me feel a little endeared. After the drug fight Paul fills a Nirvana CD case (the same one, I think, that the couple tries to sell at a flea market in Mumblecore) with drugs, wraps the CD case in four copies of The Stranger featuring Tao's face on the cover, and then puts the CD case into a package and tries to FedEx the package to his parents' house in Taiwan before being dissuaded by the ~$90 cost.
There is a significant portion of the novel—at least in this unfinished version—describing Paul and Erin doing things together, often watching movies or going to restaurants, with notably significant description of the food consumed, which I feel is unique and good. During one instance, at Sel de Mer, Paul is described as eating "all of the free bread," a salad, clam chowder with something fried in it that he moved from the salad to the clam chowder, one and a half lobsters, "ten to 15" fries, using "all his butter and ketchup and some of Erin's butter."
The Ohio portion of the novel takes place at the homes of Jordan Castro and Mallory Whitten. This is when the central relationship between Paul and Erin begins to deteriorate, I think. Erin seems distant from or upset with Paul during this portion of the novel.
The end of the novel is Paul and Erin in Paul’s apartment eating mushrooms and Paul believing he is insane, then dead, then maybe not dead—dead but somehow alive and grateful. I think it is a very beautiful ending.
The prose style is similar to the prose style of Bed. It is hard to judge in its unfinished state, but basing my opinion on the most finished parts of the novel (first and last few pages), it is similar to Bed or "Relationship Story." There are some extremely long sentences not similar to the short, concrete, clipped sentences of Richard Yates and Shoplifting From American Apparel. I like both of those styles.
I think the most attractive thing about this novel, and all of Tao's prose, for me, is that it is based in concrete reality, on actual events that occurred concerning people I am interested in, and is in that way similar to a "puzzle" or some sort of overarching work of art. As if Tao really is adhering to his belief that life is a work of art—inasmuch as his work extends beyond the pages of his books and one can learn more about the characters by closely examining the work and then comparing the information to the internet presences of the people on which the characters are based. I like this and I wish it were possible to do with other books or movies that I like. I think Tao also enjoys doing this, searching for more information about a work of art that is not necessarily contained within the work or art, as he has stated in interviews or on his blog that during a period of time when he was "obsessed" with literature or certain writers, he would use the resources available to him (as a college student, a library employee) to search LexisNexis and other exclusive-seeming databases for information on his favorite authors and books. If you also take into account what is known about Tao and his beliefs, it might be true that he would encourage people to search for more information about his work, to view his life and the things he produces as one giant work of art, which I think is great.