As you read Tao Lin’s latest novel, Taipei (Vintage Contemporaries, 250 pages, $14.95, ), you will know when a character leaves to go to the bathroom. You will know when a character goes to Urban Outfitters. You will know what a character buys at Whole Foods Market—kale, lemons and energy drinks. Such details make Taipei a lot like a pointillist painting where dots seemingly meaningless up close become a picture from afar.
That picture isn’t so pretty. We follow Paul, a socially awkward writer living in New York City, through a blur of parties, Google Chat, almost-relationships and steadily increasing drug use. Amid Adderall- and Klonopin-induced hazes (or, sometimes, cocaine- and heroin-induced hazes), he constantly refreshes his Tumblr feed, goes on book tours, visits his parents in Taipei and, in Las Vegas, weds another writer, Erin, on a whim.
The little dots end up creating a portrait of a twentysomething strung out on technology and drugs, leaving little room to care about much of anything. That includes, but is not limited to, his wedding and marriage, his impending death and people in general, whom he sees as “vaguely, unsatisfactorily desirable.”
The sentence structure adopts the self-conscious staccato of internal thought, jumping from how beautiful life can be to “let’s get drunk” in no time at all, which makes Paul’s hazy world feel all the more real. Lin’s prose is sometimes bogged down by too many thoughts and details—sentences often stretch into the Faulkner-esque—making it hard to keep track of time or people. But while the language and Paul’s numbness cause the story to start flat, the writing eventually pops to life in surprising and weird ways.
Lin, the author of several other novels, including Shoplifting From American Apparel and Richard Yates, has said that Taipei is autobiographical fiction. The events in Taipei
aren’t really what it’s about, though. It’s more a depressing and
analytical look into a character’s thoughts as he struggles to express
himself in a too-busy world.
GO: Tao Lin visits Powell’s City of Books, 1005 W Burnside St., on Tuesday, June 18. 7:30 pm. Free.