July 5th, 2010 / 8:06 am
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Tao Lin Tao Lin Tao Lin Tao Lin Richard Yates Richard Yates Richard Yates Richard Yates

I’m baffled by the back cover of my Richard Yates galley. The relationship between the book’s two main characters–one, the Tao figure, 22, and the other 16–is described three times, in three separate paragraphs, as “illicit,” a heavy-handed enforcement of theme which should hold truck with the novel itself: one would expect, going in, that the scandal which supposedly holds the weight of the novel would actually sustain itself as a scandal. Which happens to be so little the case that it’s kind of funny, this negation of the back cover, and is a fascinating, if unintentional, way of diverting expectations: by Richard Yates failing totally in self-description.

The real book has little, in the end, to do with an “illicit love affair,” at least on my reading; instead, it signifies a deepening, widening and inversion of Tao’s already-honed formula–bored vegans emptying themselves out in the midst of everyone being an asshole–which in this book exposes itself as not exactly formulaic, but as a form, crystallized and repeated, finally reaching its limit, the zero-point at which the tranquility which has always marked Tao’s work becomes its opposite.

In Richard Yates, the bored vegans donning neutral facial expressions–Dakota Fanning and Haley Joel Osment–are themselves the assholes, the lunatics, the destructive forces who are paradoxically almost too self-reflexive, too consumed with themselves, to understand on how profound of a level they’re ruining one another’s lives, and with what intensity they embody precisely the blinkered, “fucked” subjectivity from which they want to be kept safe. Whereas in Shoplifting from American Apparel, Sam was so “cleansed” and emptied that he could welcome whatever happens as what must be, Dakota and Haley, though they evince the same values as Sam, use those values (or, well, Haley, the Tao character, specifically does) to police one another’s lives. They eventually become so embroiled in their relationship that they can’t see beyond it enough to even desire an improvement–or to even see the latter as claustrophobic in the first place. All that Haley wants is Dakota, but his Dakota is only himself. Here is the underside of the “objectivity” scrawled across Tao’s work: to become God, and, loving, to love only what is yours. To love whatever says your name, which is only to love your name. It’s lonely up there.

All of this is, of course, delivered neutrally in the third-person, here a really curious and complex technique. Most of the time we get a melancholic and “twee” mood from Haley and Dakota’s conversations, from what they say and how they say it, and from how they process the events that interrupt or challenge their relationship (for instance, Dakota Fanning’s “overprotective” mother, the novel’s most empathetic character, who is confined to its periphery and drowned out)–a mood for which, for better or worse, one can now rely on Tao, but here he’s undermining and almost mocking that expectation while still fulfilling it. Because, after the first half of the book, that mood is only ever accompanied by the chilling knowledge, the unsaid of what we’ve read, that this mode of relating, vibrant and youthful in its way, is costing these characters their youth. It’s jarring and truly sad, in a wholly new and kind of breathtaking way for Tao, to become caught up in the love between Dakota and Haley, to witness them save one another, only to realize, again and again, that they will be the end to one another, the only thing one another ever loved–or, even worse, could love.

It would be easy to say that Richard Yates is Tao Lin’s best book yet. Others have said it. Plainly, however, it’s not–Richard Yates only proves that Tao’s work, as it should, undoes any pretensions to “best” or “worst.” Each book of Tao’s compounds and confounds the books that have come before it; each book both supplements Tao’s formula and claims that there is none, that Tao’s writing is not formula, but revision and sabotage at once, and of what source material, well, who knows. Who cares, really. Shoplifting from American Apparel is poise achieved deep within the noise of whatever; Richard Yates is the noise, so loud that it goes unheard, coiled at the very heart of that poise.

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99 Comments

  1. d

      He is are thus that too is.

  2. Saduharu Mandingo

      You are going to give yourself a hernia, young man.

  3. marshall

      I got an RY galley, but I accidentally the whole thing.

  4. Nick Antosca

      It is true that the jacket copy seems to have almost nothing to do with the pages between the covers.

  5. jh

      HTMLgiant should refrain from talking about Tao Lin for one month and replace those posts with Nick Antosca talking about A Sport and A Pastime.

  6. jh

      I did not know that Nick Antosca posted directly before me.

  7. steve

      yah fuck reviews

  8. michael

      reading these things makes me feel like i want to be really moderate, like reactionary moderation, like i’m reacting to the people who are being reactionarily moderate about their opinions, like the voice of reason or something (lol), post-reactionary moderation moderate. no voice of reason or something. can’t figure out why i said “voice of reason” so many times just now

      i really like tao lin’s writing, a lot. i look forward to reading ry. i think i thought this just now: “unapologetically like tao lin(‘s writing).” seems confusing to me. seems like that isn’t relevant. ‘tao lin sympathizer.’ i don’t know, seems like he is someone who writes (well) (terribly) who is (clever) (a media whore)

      i personally feel like he writes well and is clever and maybe a media whore but in an entertaining way

      i feel mildly amused by the existence of these comments. i’ve read 10-20% of them. seems like i will check back later to see if anyone has posted after me with higher levels of interest. ok

  9. jereme

      using “lolita” to describe tao’s work—fucking lol.

  10. marshall

      semicolon blog, damn

  11. Donald

      I would also hugely appreciate any PDFs that anyone could offer, as I live in England and don’t get paid anything for doing so.

  12. Rusty

      Tao Lin is a good writer who doesn’t afraid of anything.

  13. d

      He is are thus that too is.

  14. Saduharu Mandingo

      You are going to give yourself a hernia, young man.

  15. Guest

      I got an RY galley, but I accidentally the whole thing.

  16. anon

      I trimmed my pubes today. I think I went a little too crazy.
      It’s kinda like stubble now. Tao Lin, how do you trim your pubes, if at all?

  17. Nick Antosca

      It is true that the jacket copy seems to have almost nothing to do with the pages between the covers.

  18. jh

      HTMLgiant should refrain from talking about Tao Lin for one month and replace those posts with Nick Antosca talking about A Sport and A Pastime.

  19. jh

      I did not know that Nick Antosca posted directly before me.

  20. steve

      yah fuck reviews

  21. michael

      reading these things makes me feel like i want to be really moderate, like reactionary moderation, like i’m reacting to the people who are being reactionarily moderate about their opinions, like the voice of reason or something (lol), post-reactionary moderation moderate. no voice of reason or something. can’t figure out why i said “voice of reason” so many times just now

      i really like tao lin’s writing, a lot. i look forward to reading ry. i think i thought this just now: “unapologetically like tao lin(‘s writing).” seems confusing to me. seems like that isn’t relevant. ‘tao lin sympathizer.’ i don’t know, seems like he is someone who writes (well) (terribly) who is (clever) (a media whore)

      i personally feel like he writes well and is clever and maybe a media whore but in an entertaining way

      i feel mildly amused by the existence of these comments. i’ve read 10-20% of them. seems like i will check back later to see if anyone has posted after me with higher levels of interest. ok

  22. Guest

      semicolon blog, damn

  23. anon

      I trimmed my pubes today. I think I went a little too crazy.
      It’s kinda like stubble now. Tao Lin, how do you trim your pubes, if at all?

  24. tao

      triple-blade razor

  25. Brandon

      Have you read anything by Wes Eisold? Do you like him or any of his bands (American Nightmare/Give Up The Ghost, Some Girls, Cold Cave, XO Skeletons)?

  26. marshall

      I didn’t know that dude is in Cold Cave. Weird.

  27. tao

      i haven’t read anything by that person

      i think i’ve listened to some of those bands, i don’t remember what i thought about them

  28. tao lin

      triple-blade razor

  29. Jordan

      Report back — old people want to know.

  30. Brandon

      Have you read anything by Wes Eisold? Do you like him or any of his bands (American Nightmare/Give Up The Ghost, Some Girls, Cold Cave, XO Skeletons)?

  31. Guest

      I didn’t know that dude is in Cold Cave. Weird.

  32. tao lin

      i haven’t read anything by that person

      i think i’ve listened to some of those bands, i don’t remember what i thought about them

  33. Charles

      Um

  34. Jordan

      Report back — old people want to know.

  35. Charles

      Um

  36. Nick Antosca

      Pleasing.

  37. Nick Antosca

      Pleasing.

  38. jonny ross

      damn

  39. jonny ross

      damn

  40. Sam

      dgaf
      tao lin says shit and i like it
      ill steal this book

  41. Sam

      dgaf
      tao lin says shit and i like it
      ill steal this book

  42. A Gmail chat about Tao Lin’s ‘Richard Yates’ « short stories from a Tall me
  43. unclefarkus » Blog Archive » 07.24.10

      […] read some hype on ‘Richard Yates’ from sites such as: internet, official site, HTMLGIANT review/coverage of this blog post, Alt Report, Fishkind review,author description, Justin […]

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      […] we’re working on our masterpieces as we speak, etc., wrote a review of Richard Yates at HTMLGIANT. Here are my comments re this […]

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  46. herocious

      I finished RY and tried to figure out if DF & HJO were anything I should think about. Then I realized I just read a movie script. I think that’s what had me confused: I thought I was reading a novel.

      Oh well.

      I think TL should start writing scripts. I also think TL would be a good agent/publicist for me.

      http://theopenend.com/2010/09/04/tao-lins-richard-yates-book-review/

  47. zusya

      so what you’re saying… is that we should be friends.

  48. herocious

      I finished RY and tried to figure out if DF & HJO were anything I should think about. Then I realized I just read a movie script. I think that’s what had me confused: I thought I was reading a novel.

      Oh well.

      I think TL should start writing scripts. I also think TL would be a good agent/publicist for me.

      http://theopenend.com/2010/09/04/tao-lins-richard-yates-book-review/

  49. Cletch

      God, all this stuff is starting to make me want to celebrate Peter Sotos as Dostoevsky…..