Tao Lin’s name has been sprinkled about in reviews, newspapers, and online a fair amount in the past year. He’s young and irritating and people seem generally confused and annoyed by him. For example, it seems he wrote a feature story about himself for Seattle’s The Stranger. There has, of course, been some more standard promotion for Lin, including a story on Salon.com and an interview on themillions.com. My favorite piece on Lin, however, was written on Gawker.com criticizing Lin for his promotional tactics and general attitude:
Tao Lin, I know you’re reading this. I just want you to know that because of your ill-conceived self-marketing strategy, you have 100% guaranteed that I will never read your damned book with its oh-so-wacky title. Dennis Cooper might love you, but that doesn’t mean a thing to us. (Hey, maybe he’ll chop you up!) Your publicity games aren’t a play on fame-seeking or celebrity culture. Actually, you’re maybe perhaps the single most irritating person we’ve ever had to deal with—and you wouldn’t believe our in-box. Stop it. Stop it now. And now we will go back to never mentioning you again.
That said, I recently read Lin’s most recent book, Richard Yates. My boyfriend handed it to me and said, “Here, you have to read this so we can talk about how awful it is.” So began my journey into the pages to the single worst novel I have ever read.
Richard Yates follows a 22-year-old pretentious New York writer (dubbed Haley Joel Osment) and his 16 year old bulimic, faux-suicidal New Jersey girlfriend (Dakota Fanning). Told mostly through emails, text messages, and gmail chat, the story is slow, monotonous and incredibly boring. Lin is giving a peek into a modern-day dysfunctional relationship that will ring familiar to anyone who went to high school from 2000 to now, when social interactions moved largely to online mediums.
Both characters spend their time lamenting being alive and doing silly things like mailing each other stuffed animals and making up insults (they like to call people they don’t like, which is everyone, “cheese beasts” and “party girls”). The one thing I will credit Lin for is that he does a good job of capturing the self-absorbed, melodramatic personality of the typical American teenage girl and the mopey, faux-existentialist twenty-something male writer. Unfortunately, these characters just mill around barely interacting with anyone other than each other (and even those interactions are mostly through the internet). They also have no redeemable qualities or embark on any journeys in which they change, grow, or become more palatable to the reader.
The so-called “illicit” relationship between the two never feels illicit, or sexy, or intriguing. Haley Joel Osment is just as immature as she is, therefore the age difference seems nonexistent. Haley does prove to have a bad impact on the younger girl, however, as his constant criticisms on her personality and weight cause her to become bulimic. But Haley isn’t a monster, he’s just kind of a jerk. He criticizes Dakota Fanning, but also puts up with her flakiness and in the end tries to make her healthier and to stop throwing up.
Some have said that Lin is the next great American novelist, that he’s the voice of a generation, etc. and these things frighten me greatly as I am a part of that generation. I refuse to allow schmucks like Lin to speak for me, especially when he isn’t saying anything.