Sometimes I have a lot to say about a particular book, and sometimes I don't. I've never been very good at coming up with abstract reviews for things like poetry, short stories, conceptual novels -- anything without a big ol' plot. I can write about plot. But I can't write a review with phrases like "impressively smart" or "highly entertaining." Because that wouldn't tell you anything. I may just as well say "I liked it. It was good."
So trying to tell you why I liked Tao Lin's Bed would be like me trying to tell you why I like Seinfeld.
Seinfeld is a show about nothing.
Bed is a short story collection about:
College students, recent graduates, and their parents work at Denny's, volunteer at a public library in suburban Florida, attend satanic ska/punk concerts, eat Chinese food with the homeless of New York City, and got to the same Japanese restaurant in Manhattan three times in two sleepless days, all while yearning constantly for love, a better kind of love, or something better than love, things which--much like the Loch Ness Monster--they know probably do no exist, but are rumored to exist and therefore "good enough." [From the back cover]
And I liked it. It was good.
Bed has to be my favorite of Tao Lin's books. And it's probably the most accessible. Start with this one rather than Eeeee Eee Eeee. Work up to that one.
Here are some of my favorite passages:
Outside, crossing Fifth Avenue, he looked up at the buildings and felt a kind of rapture, something of apology and thanks and intelligence--though maybe just a thing of coffee and wakefulness--forming, like a good idea (the world thinking hard, finally), here, in the little wind, the slightly infrared space between the buildings, the wet, shucked gemstars of the traffic lights, and all the glassy windows above, bright and comprehending as eyes, watchful as a world that wanted, truly, to know--and to love--all its lost and bewildered people.
"And what's gravity? No one knows. No one cares. Why is there gravity? That's so weird. That's like, why are there things? That's so depressing, that that question even exists. But sincere, I think."
[Aaron] began writing sort of science-fiction conceits for workshop; crude, uncritiqueable things that did not fuck around, but got straigt to the point, which was always bafflement. In one, an alien civilization discovers that gravity is the cause of worry, love, and fear, the underlying desire of all things to occupy the same space (to correct the big bang, go against God's, or whoever's, big impulse move, that shady decision of somethingness) to again become one final, gravityless, unchangeable thing--and is baffled.
He thought it might make a good children's book one day, a collection of them "Fairy Tales for the Young Disillusionist", or something. "Handbook for Doomed and/or Disenchanted Children: a Pop-Up Collection".
As one had to expect very little--almost nothing--from life,...one had to be grateful, not always trying to seize the days, not like some maniac of living, but to give oneself up, be seized by the days, the months and years, be taken up in a froth of sun and moon, some pale and smoothie'd river-cloud of life, a long drawn-out and gray sort of enlightenment, so that when it was time to die, one did not scream swear words and knock things down, did not make a scene, but went easily, with understanding and tact, and quietly in a lightly pummeled way, having been consoled--having allowed to be consoled--by the soft and generous worthlessness of it all, having allowed to be massaged by the daily beating of life, instead of just beaten.
"Depressed people...are so depressed and harmless. Bin Laden and everyone, Bush--they're always grinning on TV. What the fuck is that. No on ever thinks about this shit, really."
First week of February you began to suspect that, for the rest of your life, nothing might happen. This was one of those years. You mail-ordered a special mattress, and napped too much. In restaurants, people ordered the ice-cream cake, shoved their hands under their thighs, and talked loudly about death. On TV, politicians began to snack from Ziploc bags, like a provocation. Almonds, raisins. Sour Patch Kids.
Things, you felt, had changed.
There was a new foreboding to the room in which you slept. There was the fear, now, that all your anxieties and disconsolations might keep on escalating and never stop. There was the theoretical chance that if you threw a banana at a wall the banana might go through the wall.
You were one person alive and your brain was encased inside a skull. There were other people out there. It took an effort to be connected. Some people were better at this than others. Some people were bad at it. Some people were so bad at it that they gave up.