The Asian Reporter 19th Annual
Scholarship & Awards Banquet -
The Asian Reporter's
From The Asian Reporter, V18, #28 (July 15, 2008), page 15 & 17.
Sharply nuanced and wafer thin
By Tao Lin
Melville House, 2007
Paperback, 278 pages, $14.95
By Ronault L.S. Catalani
Bed is the title of a collection of nine short stories. Publisher Melville House co-released it along with the novel Eeeee Eee Eeee. Both are the work of recent New Yorker Tao Lin ó a rather confident, pretty funny, and super-smart young writer.
There actually is no "Bed" in Bed, not in the way most short story collections are named after one of the selections inside. But youíve got to admit itís clever. A tempting title.
Mr. Lin likewise works the terrific title "Love is a Thing on Sale for More Money Than There Exists" for his opening short story for the same effect. The title and the story are urbane and post-bourgeois in every way youíve got to be nowadays, especially if youíre moving from college to the Big Apple. But this catchy title has not a lot to do with what happens in the story so named. And maybe thatís the point. Maybe Mr. Lin is having fun and readers should too. After all, serious writers are supposed to nudge us out of our staid ordinariness by slyly shifting those contexts we tend to lean on. Beauty happens when youíre a little rattled.
And so, I expectantly read on and on, into several more short stories just as well-named but also just as unfulfilling. Itís much the same for Mr. Linís first novel, Eeeee Eee Eeee (according to the author, squeally dolphin sounds). There are lots of wonderful ideas and seductive lines leading us to creative and sexy possibilities. But nothing after our teasers. Take this scene from "Insomnia for a Better Tomorrow." In it, Brian just started a job at a "magazine corporation":
"There were rooms with desks and rooms with views, and they gave Brian a room with a desk."
Every morning, Jennika entered his room and gave him a list of tasks: "Hereís your tasks for today, Brian, she would say."
One day he stopped her routine by asking what their company really does ... "He had been wondering."
"ĎWeíre a magazine corporation,í Jennika said. A kind of gluey indecision began in her eyes, a slow and brainward strain ó this sort of melancholy distortion. It made it seem like she was very uncomfortable being alive."
Beautifully done. Full of nuance. Full of humanity. Ready for exploration and revelation. But then, it doesnít happen.
Again: That may well be the point. This may precisely do what Tao Lin with his two-fisted release ó one selection of shorts, one smart-alecky novel ó wants to do. He might be speaking for his emerging generation of American writers. He could be communicating in their crowded, information-frantic, and silicon-wafer-thin style. A form that leaves us slower thinkers a bit unsated. Longing for substance.
You have to appreciate Mr. Linís stamina though. His very hopping stuff comes at you with amazing speed. Itís clever, cool, sensational second after second. But as any elder auntie will tell you: Whether itís savory scallop or dense chocolate torte (fantastic foreplay too), too much of any good thing is too much. Interest wanes.
Maybe itíll take Tao Lin nothing more than the passage of time. People tumble into depth with age. Bad things will happen. Character develops and so do writers. For the present, Tao Linís stories will have to be peopled with stalled and parked privileged kids. Midwest parents cameo, paying rent for college apartments. Not bad people, not unimportant places, but writers and their characters need to know more. Readers need to feel more.
For the present, this novel and collection of shorts will have to do. And they do what they do well. Aside from the fun of surfing along some fantastic inner scenery really fast, the funniest part of Tao Linís art is that Iím no longer hungry far before the end of a ride that feels like an appetizer platter. No longing for the main entrťe. For substance. For sirloin steak. Iím just tired.