Finally got around to reading Tao Lin. I've had Shoplifting from American Apparel on my wishlist forever, but Richard Yates became available as an e-book, which sealed the deal. Richard Yates is not about Richard Yates. Or it is. I haven't read anything by Richard Yates yet so I can’t tell. My eyes can only scan and interpret symbols on a page/computer screen so fast, and the entirety of human knowledge and literary creation is before me. So just...just hold on.
I felt a little like a stranger stumbling into his work. Because hey, I’m not a hipster, or vegan, and I’m not working on an MFA. I don’t belong here! But here I was, and by page 38 I had given up. I despised the main character to an enormous extent. Which sounds weird because it’s weird to hate Haley Joel Osment to an enormous extent. The plot, by the way, is about two depressed young adults, 22 year old 'Haley Joel Osment' and 16 year old 'Dakota Fanning', who Gchat and start a long distance relationship. By page 38 I hated the book. I hated the fact that it was an e-book and I couldn’t sell it to a used bookstore or throw it out the window. I considered printing out a copy and then throwing the copy out the window.
The next day I started reading again. It had affected me. Tao Lin’s prose is probably best described as ‘flat’ or neutral. In many ways it’s like reading a screenplay. Or maybe a twitter feed (especially since we're told every single thing the characters eat). And the dialogue is primarily conducted through e-mail and Gchat. Which, by the way, Tao Lin portrays perfectly. I read this part and was blown away by how much it resembled AIM conversations with my friends:
"When." said Haley Joel Osment.
"I don't know. Soon. I will talk to fried Nicholas Sparks cheese beast."
"That is good," said Jaley Joel Osment. "Cheese beast."
"I kept looking at 'cheese beast' and ignoring the rest."
"Me too," said Haley Joel Osment.
"Let's refer to her as cheese beast now," said Dakota Fanning. "Like tape man or headbutt girl."
"Sometimes we can call other people cheese beasts too," said Haley Joel Osment.
Dakota Fanning said the name of a person and said the person was a cheese beast.
"Cheese beast is good," said Haley Joel Osment.
But behind his 'flat' prose are highly emotional conflicts and characters. Haley and Dakota are the kind of people who proclaim everything to 'be fucked' at every opportunity. Who threaten suicide non-chalantly. The kind you roll your eyes at, but still worry over, and secretly sympathize with. Jackie Wang put it best in a post on HTMLGiant about emotional excess:
Since crossing over into my 20s, I look at teenagers and feel kind of embarrassed for them. They lack emotional filters. They’re so direct about their suffering. They’re making themselves look pathetic. But really–I kind of envy them, their lack of restraint. It must be really freeing to be that open without feeling the urge to censor yourself...
...we are still these over-feeling and fucked up human beings, and we have these little pimply and confused teenagers inside of us yelling and demanding a voice but we hush that voice–we have co-workers and editors and readers that are always eyeing us, looking for the places where the seams of the adult bodysuits are coming undone.
I love emotionally excessive lit, but mostly in the gothic genre. Characters in gothic plots have extreme emotions because they're thrown into extreme situations. Confronted with the surreal, the sublime, the supernatural, the walking dead, immortality, pure evil,...giant helmets... no wonder the characters break free of their enlightened restraint, succumbing to ultimate despair and fear, running screaming into the night. But it's so much more disturbing to come across characters who feel this way all on their own.
"A fucked person enters an unfucked situation, and the situation immediately becomes fucked. It's the person that is fucked," said Haley Joel Osment. "Obviously."
"Situations can't be fucked because they are situations," said Julia.
"We are profound." said Haley Joel Osment. "Where is our Nobel Prize."
I stopped reading because I hated Haley Joel Osment. I continued reading because I identified with him. I didn't like this. Haley is in a relationship with someone who he thinks doesn't care. Who says one thing and does another. Here are some things he says that I marked:
At each moment you can either kill yourself, try harder to detach yourself from people and reality, or be thinking of and doing what you can for the people you like. Those are the only 3 choices at any moment.
"You shouldn't 'should' anything," said Haley Joel Osment. "Just think about what you do that you do without thinking to do it, like stopping to pee, why do you want that more than what you say you actually want? It can only mean that you don't actually want what you just typed. You are extreme when you cut yourself or starve yourself but not when it comes to me."
He says what I've always wanted to say. And anyone who knows me well enough knows why. But it's a guilty thought. It's a selfish thing to feel. I feel like a selfish person asking someone else not to be so selfish. In another post by Jackie Wang on her own blog, she writes:
Sometimes, my partner is very far. I become totally unfamiliar to her: I turn into a weird alien sitting next to her that she knows nothing about. This upsets me a lot, because I feel like I am always present—I don’t have those moments where I doubt our love, or the reality of her. And sometimes when she gets hung up on a death-oriented discourse, I refuse to accept this. I say, you can’t “love” me while being obsessed with death. The film made her so upset because it showed her what it was like to be on the other side of the death discourse—to be the lover of someone who does not want to live. But I can understand her side as well because I get depressed too—we all are in the slumps sometimes. But even when I am in it, I want to get out. I reject it and refuse to integrate it as part of my identity because really, I want to live. And I want to want to live. To be in the world.
Which after reading I mouthed 'Yes,' feeling a moment of connectedness, realizing someone else has experienced what I've gone through.
There's a section of the book I really wanted to post here, to show you how well the author portrays an extremely emotional moment using neutral prose, causing it to have even more impact. But it's rather long and I don't feel like being sued today. Plus, I suppose it would be a spoiler. However, I want to say that I'm glad I finished the novel. Tao Lin's work is masterful, it just took me reading the entire thing to realize it.