Arts & Culture
'Taipei' by Tao Lin: Brooklyn, Taiwan, Xanax, Twitter
Polarizing writer’s third novel probes the millennial fixation with technology and boredom
Published: August 7, 2013
Taipei by Tao Lin
Vintage Contemporaries | 256 pages
‘I don’t view my memory as accurate or static,” the novelist Tao Lin said in a recent interview with Entertainment Weekly. “My focus is still on creating an effect, not on documenting reality.” It’s that very sort of flat, mild-to-the-point-of-affectless and patently disingenuous statement that makes some readers find Lin so maddening – seeing as how Lin’s work, especially his three “novels,” are or seem to be exact reproductions of his own life.
Retelling one’s life in fictional form has become the de facto and clichéd storytelling method among contemporary writers, either as a device for subverting the reader’s assumptions or as a self-reflexive/meta commentary on memory and the writing process. (For a master class on both fictional reality and irritating one’s fans, see Bret Easton Ellis’ 2005 faux-memoir Lunar Park.) Lin, a writer recognized for using autobiographical material with microscopic liberty and unabashed fervor, is concerned with neither of those. Readers both familiar and not-so-much will find Lin’s third novel, Taipei, disconcerting, inane, divisive and – simultaneously – all too recognizable. Or as Jade Shames, in his Thought Catalog article “One Response to Every Page of ‘Taipei’ by Tao Lin,” blankly says: “Sometimes it’s scary how similar conversations are in this book to ones I’ve had in life.”
Taipei traces the progress of Paul, a Brooklyn writer of Taiwanese origin, on an extensive book tour reading from his second novel – including excerpts from an unnamed “memoir-in-progress.” The book meanders its way through the minutiae of Paul’s disaffected and indifferent relationships with artists, his childhood in Apopka, his shoplifting experiences, his current and former hook-ups, the entire time distracted and constantly checking his social media pages. It also exhaustively records his excessive alcohol and drug intake (MDMA, heroin, cocaine, Adderall, mushrooms, Klonopin, Xanax). Paul is forever “grinning” or becoming “obsessed” with new flings, forming awkward liaisons with fans from his reading tour (most of them at colleges), through Gchat or social media, and in person during interviews. He even chronicles his drug use with former lovers by videotaping it on his Macbook. This drug usage becomes a heavy and constant source of worry for Paul’s mom, even though she suggests that “it’s OK to try it once in a while.”
The novel’s trip through Paul’s life is – uh – very similar to Tao Lin’s own experience. In 2010, Lin published his second novel, Richard Yates (a thinly veiled autobiography in which the main characters’ names were “Haley Joel Osment” and “Dakota Fanning,” and which had little to do with the titular novelist, author of the revered 1961 book Revolutionary Road). Lin also went on a brief book tour including stops at several colleges, detailed his shoplifting experience in his novella Shoplifting From American Apparel and on various online publications (particularly Vice, where he’s a house favorite, and Gawker, where he’s a favored whipping boy), and recorded his drug-infused experiences as co-founder of MDMA films.
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