I never fucking liked Tao Lin. I'd probably have liked his books more, given them their fighting chance, if he and his books hadn't been constantly shoved down my throat every day of the week for the past few years. Shit gets old, quick. It's like, "Oh, you have a sweet book out? Well, I just got blasted in the face by you and it online for about an hour while trying to look at something that doesn't suck instead, so no, I don't give a fuck about you or Gmail or the fact that you're bored." I felt like this.
If you've had the fortune of even grazing the independent literary scene of New York in the past few years, chances are slim you escaped without hearing about Tao. (For the uninitiated, Tao Lin is a NY-based writer known for his minimalist prose stylings as well as his shameless self-promotion.) Maybe it's just me, but the more I hear about something, the more I don't want to give it any of my money. Plus, I had a hard time telling exactly what Tao was trying to do with all this publicity. Did he want me to remember his name? OK, he got me to remember his name. So now that I knew his name, and I knew that he was a writer, I guess the idea was that I should seek out his books (I can't bust on you to people if I don't know about you). So, I sought out his books. I did not buy his books but I looked inside of them. I failed to find very much going on for me in there. Though I did enjoy some things I read, nothing quite put my head through the ceiling. I thought Tao Lin was OK at writing, but I still didn't think there was enough there to warrant the publicity that surrounded him. This publicity stacked on top of his writing's okayness just made the okayness less and less OK (kind of how exaggerating something diminishes the truth of the actual, real story which was probably not too bad to begin with and would have stood fine on its own before it got pumped full of bullshit to create more of a story, or in this case, book). The barrage of publicity almost ruined Tao Lin for me. If I had just accidentally stumbled upon his earlier writing, I would have liked it much more. Maybe.
But something must have happened to me, or to Tao Lin, or to the both of us, because I've been swayed. I kind of fucking love this guy now. His new novel Richard Yates is the most intelligent and hilarious book I've read all year (probably since Sam Lipsyte's The Ask). There's some deep psychic shit stirring in its pages. Real laughs too. I know, I've heard, his other books are also "really funny." They may have been really funny to you but they weren't that funny to me. This new book is though, and it's crushingly sad. It is, at some points, beautiful. Then it gets funny again, and then a bit sad (and so forth). Tao can draw a very still bead on many emotions, and he's good at keeping a rhythm and then sucking you in with it. The very fact that the story can make you forget how ridiculously named the two main characters are (Haley Joel Osment and Dakota Fanning) is a bit of a miracle in itself. The annoying child-faces of those two twits are completely dissolved by the characters Tao writes into them. He somehow annihilates their faces with his prose.
I do have to confess though, getting through it took me twice. The first time, I was only ten pages in before I set it in my "neglect" pile. But one night I didn't feel like moving anything but my arms and it happened to be in reach, so I grabbed it. I'm pretty sure I had plans to get inside and knock it around a bit, tear its walls down one by one. I have a green pen (I associate green with stupid) that I go through shitty books with and underline them where they are at their most terrible. I opened the book to around page 20 and started from there, holding my green pen. But then I kept reading, not using my pen. I kept going even further. I set my pen down. I don't think there was anything that could have stopped me from finishing this book. I finished up at six in the morning and then it filtered into my dreams in cool ways. While I was reading it and laughing so often and so loud, my bed company kept waking up to tell me to be quiet and to turn off the light. I wouldn't even do it. "Fuck you," I whispered. "I'm fucking reading."