GIANT REVIEW, special gchat collaborative edition: Shoplifting from American Apparel
Drew Toal and I were having such a great time talking about Tao Lin’s new novella, Shoplifting from American Apparel, that we figured we owed it to the world to go public. So we forced ourselves to not discuss the book anymore until we were both finished, then we scheduled a time to meet up online and gchat about it. We ended up talking about a lot of extra-literary stuff (maybe too much?) but given that it’s Tao, and that we know him, that was pretty much unavoidable squared, but I think we did a pretty kickass job with the book when we got around to it. Drew was at his office, in mid-town, and I was at my office, in my bedroom. After the jump, we get down to it.
Andrew: When do you want to do TaoChat?
me: any old time
what are you doing now?
Andrew: Finishing up a review, but I should have time in a bit
me: ok, so want to set a time?
Andrew: Let’s say tentatively noon
me: ok, but if we can start sooner, then let’s
Andrew: Okay no prob
I’m moving along nicely, unlike the Trevor story I’m writing about
ok go to work. im getting breakfast. i’ll be here
Andrew: Okay let’s do this thing
Andrew: Tao Lin. Genius or fraud?
me: Child psychologist or post-master general?
Andrew: Mormon or circus clown?
Okay okay. Well, first of all, I’d like to remind you that, when we all first started living together, and had a group meeting, that Tao stood behind the door and peeked around it occasionally. That was his contribution.
That is the type of person we’re talking about here.
me: Right. And let’s just throw that out there for all the people in internet land who will read this- we are two of Tao’s ex-roommates.
Tao and I lived together twice, in different places, and you and I still live together now.
Andrew: Yes, and we’ve both just finished Tao’s novella, Shoplifting From American Apparel
And are familiar with his oeuvre, such that it is.
I feel like Meghan O’Rourke right now.
Andrew: I kind of feel like Reggie Miller
me: Well okay, so just to start us off, it seems like I liked the book more than you did.
Do you want to offer a complaint?
Andrew: Well, I’d just like to say first that I didn’t “dislike” it. I’m just suspicious of Tao’s autismy prose, and suspect it has its limits.
The prison scenes were great.
I picture Michael Clarke Duncan playing Tao in the movie version.
I’m picturing Michael Cera, but that’s pretty obvious.
I actually thought this was his strongest prose to date.
Andrew: He did exercise quite a bit (I think) when he lived with us.
I believe he mentions his Pilates mat in the book.
me: When the Vice article (of the same name) came out, I was unimpressed. I think that was just one of the prison scenes. I had high doubts about this book. But I feel won over.
Andrew: Which, I guess, was a result of the hard time he did.
me: Yeah, he learned a thing or two in the clink.
Went in a listless NYU alum, came out a PILATES MONSTER
Andrew: Do you think he owns an organic shank?
me: You mean a carrot?
Andrew: Haha. “Yes.”
me: But come on, let’s be serious. “Literary criticism,” as Tao would scarequote it.
Though to be fair, this book doesn’t have any of that scarequoting in it, or really much of his other trademark internet bullshit.
Andrew: Yeah, true enough.
The dialogue is better.
Than in the past.
me: Yeah. And getting back to what you said earlier about his autism-y style, I really thought this book was a breakthrough for him.
Andrew: You were right about that, although I disbelieved you when you told me.
me: I felt like he was very effectively writing the other characters, describing them as real people, while also conveying the flat sort of bonkers way in which he perceives them.
Like, earlier books, his consciousness sort of generates the rules of the world. But in this book, you really get the feeling of a guy moving through a world that has rules different than his.
It’s a deeply personal book.
Andrew: That’s always been his thing, though, right? How he’s “existentially fucked” because he’s out of step with everything.
me: Yeah, that’s been the theory, but here it is in praxis. Which I don’t think he’s really accomplished before. I mean the world in EEE has talking animals and aliens. It’s the world he wants. A world for a hyper-intellectual punk-aligned Daniel Johnston. Or something.
And this is the world as it is, through his eyes. Do you think our opinion is colored because we know his characters?
me: In Shoplifting, there’s no sense of the world yielding at all. Sex doesn’t always work, and stealing is a bust. He travels around the country but the scene-changes barely register.
Andrew: Also: Are you pissed he didn’t put you in the book?
me: That’s another thing we should talk about. It’s a totally autobiographical book– everything in it is “true”
near as I can tell
but the fiction comes in what’s left out.
Like me and you, for example. Or Soffi.
Or all the times he’s being a more or less normal person, having fun and drinking and running around New York. Attacking Gawker, etc.
Andrew: Well, our interactions were always late at night/early in the morning with him eating kale or something.
Maybe not the stuff of novels.
me: You couldn’t write a believable character who was as emo as Tao’s “Sam” and also as bombastic and savvy as Tao’s “Tao”
Andrew: Yeah that’s the crux.
me: It’s kind of amazing, actually, what’s pared away. I don’t know how much I’m reading this differently because I know all the backstories and the real names.
Andrew: Tao might be the greatest self-promoter out there since Bret “The Hitman” Hart.
People used to make me nuts with the Warhol analogy, but increasingly I wonder….
Andrew: I’m serious. Even when he appears to be sabotaging himself, he seems to come out okay.
Does he want to sabotage himself?
I can’t tell what his real goal is with all the marketing ploys.
me: I think he went through a phrase where he wanted to see if it was even possible to sabotage himself. Hence the “fuck america” tattoo.
me: And publishing the “Brandon Book Crisis” book.
I think he’s really interested to see how much of his shit people will take.
Andrew: Pushing the envelope, in Top Gun parlance.
me: Right. I think he’s operating on a model where, weirdly, his whole public life is stunts and nonsense, and his “fictional” books are where the real truth lies.
me: I mean, you get a sense of what really matters to him, by reading the book.
Which people he bothers to leave in, and which he doesn’t.
Andrew: Yeah, well, we’ve seen his cadre of admirers come and go.
me: But we’re still not really talking about the book itself. This is all meta-stuff.
Andrew: Yeah true
Back to the book.
I came around as I went on.
The Brandon book thing really had me skeptical for whatever was coming next.
And I don’t have the book handy, but the beginning, as I recall, was mostly stilted Taospeak.
me: Mmm, I disagree
it starts with that long IM conversation, yes, but I don’t really think it’s in that scarequote-y style
Sam is talking to Luis over gchat
Andrew: This is fucked, that is fucked, etc
me: Oh yeah, true, stuff is fucked, they say.
But Luis really wants to talk about porn.
He’s looking at porn while they talk, and sending some to Sam, and Sam you get the feeling is sort of “dealing” with that reality. Of this guy talking to him about this thing.
Andrew: The sex stuff is really interesting.
A lot of Tao’s humor comes forth in those scenes.
me: then Luis misunderstands what Sam said, and thinks Sam slept with an Indian girl- and he wants to know what it’s like, and Sam has to explain that that didn’t happen.
I just thought it was very funnysad, and that changing the gchat format to standard dialogue format was a genius move.
me: You really do get the feeling of that fake presence.
Tao talks more “normally” in gchat
Is that what you just said? This is the most I’ve gchatted in quite some time.
It’s turning my gbrain into knots.
me: I meant more as an aesthetic choice. Though yeah, he’s definitely more human-sounding on the computer than in person.
But I meant, like, in Dennis Cooper’s books Period and The Sluts he preserves the look and format of online writing. And it makes sense for what Dennis is doing.
But Tao goes out of his way to change it to “normal prose style,” with dialogue tags and everything, even though we know those are all just copy-pasted transcripts of real chats he had with Noah Cicero and whoever else
so it would have been easier, and more “authentic” to paste them as-is. But that’s the thing. Authenticity is not his ultimate goal.
Art is, even if he won’t ever admit it. And artistically, it works better this way. It’s a smarter, more useful choice for the book he’s writing.
Andrew: Hey sorry, was just reading some work emails.
me: That’s okay. I’m touching up an author photo. God the future is ADD.
Andrew: Yeah, I don’t want to come off sounding like a “shit talker” here.
I’m really just a crotchety old man who fears change.
me: Just go for it. Let it out.
Andrew: There’s nothing really to let out. I love Taoser. Frankly Justin, you’ve convinced me of the merit of Shoplifting. I just don’t want to see him get pigeonholed.
You win, okay? Motherfucker.
me: No zealot like a convert, I guess.
Andrew: Viva Tao!
I’m going to go sign up to be one of his interns, now.
Tao? Are you reading this?
Can I be an intern?
He still needs to get that piano out of our apartment.
me: Yes, and you know it will never happen.
Andrew: I’ll buy him a smoothie, or a coconut.
You know he can’t resist those things.
me: Yeah, but he may have his own supply-lines set up by this point.
Andrew: He’s just got it all figured out.
me: I liked the part near the end where he goes to Gainesville to give the reading and it’s obvious that what he’s reading is the gchat that the book opens up with.
Sorry for the caps
It was merely a regular ‘hahaha’.
me: And I didn’t mean to come off like a True Believer- I think you know how skeptical I was of this book. I thought it sounded like a marketing gimmick when he announced it.
Andrew: I wanted to be a marine biologist too.
me: God, didn’t we all?
What an ending!
Andrew: Yeah, what with the AA sponsorship and all.
me: I laughed out loud so hard I woke up the homeless guy on the train bench next to me.
Andrew: It was probably some dude Tao did time with.
me: “the inmate with a mop”
It does present some amazing imagery.
Of him trading stories about what he’s “in for” and also doing pushups.
me: It really does. The only part I didn’t like was the two scenes where he describes people having a fight as “attacking [each other] existentially.”
It’s a totally idiotic use of that word.
Andrew: Yeah, I think, at this point, we can assume that everything happens “existentially” for Taoser
me: Right, that’s sort of a given.
Andrew: He existentially eats seaweed, while drawing sad hamsters, looking existential.
me: I mean I get what he means, but it’s just such a stupid-sounding way to phrase something that’s really pretty basic.
Andrew: Uh huh.
He has moderated that whole thing a bit though.
I guess he’s growing as a writer?
Is that safe to say?
me: I feel comfortable hearing you say that.
me: “Existentially comfortable.”
Andrew: I need to buy that guy a congratulatory iced coffee at Think
What’s next for our hero?
me: We will see him tonight at the book party.
We can ask. Next up is the novel in a year.
Andrew: Oh right. Forgot about that. Bookcourt?
me: Yeah, dunno what time
Andrew: Yeah I’m actually sort of interested in reading that.
Do we know anything about it?
me: Mmmm, pieces of it have been in NOON.
it’s the one where the characters are named Haley Joel Osment and Dakota Fanning.
Andrew: Oh Jesus
That old chestnut.
me: Though NOON’s lawyer made him change it–they were worried.
If Melville House knows what’s good for them, they’ll let him keep the names.
Andrew: That one was in the Mississippi Review or something, right?
Yeah, “Richard Yates”
me: Soundalikes almost always ruin a book. There’s this old Padgett Powell interview where he talks about being forced to use soundalikes in Mrs. Hollingsworth’s Men, and how he thinks it basically killed the book
Andrew: Yeah so lame
me: for Rupert Murdoch and Ted Bundy, no less.
Two serial killers, but the publisher wanted to protect themselves.
Andrew: When I put you in a book, Justin, I’m changing your name to Jason Tubbner.
me: The ironic part is I spent most of the morning trying to figure out what I’ll call Tao in the novel I want to write about him.
me: I drafted a short story once about him, but it was stupid. His life made too little sense to describe accurately.
Andrew: He does keep odd hours.
me: Yes, and company.
Andrew: Sweet kids.
me: Yeah, for sure. Remember the first time Zachary German came to visit? This was before he lived in New York.
me: He came for the Dennis Cooper event I did, and then stayed over. Him and Tao were amazing. They kicked me and Maggie’s asses at poker.
Andrew: Tao has the perfect poker face.
me: I have a picture of them pretending to make out.
It looks really real.
Andrew: They need to take that act on the road.
me: I think Maggie wanted them to do it. We were drinking 40s.
See, this is the kind of stuff that doesn’t belong in art.
Andrew: Better than that Olde Williamsburg we were drinking the other night.
me: Hey, you take that back.
Andrew: I meant worse.
Andrew: Nectar of the gods
Lesser gods, but gods
Nectar of the Lesser Gods: The Tao Lin Story.
me: I love our lives.
Andrew: I just want some reflected glory.
Andrew: Is that too much to ask?
I guess that’s where the “interns” come in
Our lives rule.
me: All thanks to Tao, apparently.
Andrew: Well, we have that mini shrine to him on the fridge
me: and on Colin’s bedroom door.
The Tao Lin Memorial Bedroom.
And his actual bed in our goddamn hallway. He owns us.
When did that happen?
Andrew: In loving memory: To the kid who sat in our refrigerator during a NY Mag photo shoot
me: And Still Has Keys And Lets Himself In To Get the Mail In the Middle of the Night
Because He Doesn’t Want to Change his Address, Even After a Year, for Some Reason
Andrew: Yeah, essentially nothing has changed, except that he doesn’t pay rent anymore.
We see him about the same amount.
me: Yeah, pretty much.
It’s his world, man. We’re just gchatting in it.