Tao Lin was in Seattle a little while back and had some very interesting things to say about our fair city. I think that Tao Lin is the first writer I’ve read who was born the year I graduated from high school. He is the sort of writer who cries out for expressions such as “deadpan” and “tongue-in-cheek” and “ennui” and “slyly disingenuous,” and then pretends he didn’t cry out for those terms at all — someone else must have — and then distract you by hucking a flaming non-sequitur at your face and laughing. Here’s what he wrote in The Stranger about the place I work:
I was walking near the downtown Seattle Public Library and felt strongly that it was the “center” of everything in Seattle. I went inside the library and my feelings were confirmed. I felt really intelligent and existentially superior while inside the library, talking on Gmail chat on a public computer, walking around taking cell-phone pictures of red walls. I had the feeling I could look out the window and see the rest of the city, from a “bird’s-eye view,” though this was not true, there was not an elevated area that I knew of where I could do that like I might from the Empire State Building. Still, walking on the street toward the library, I felt that I was “nearing” the “epicenter” of Seattle, and walking away from the library I felt like I was leaving behind the “main activity” of my day.
I was visiting Toronto a while back (where Tao Lin doesn’t live, but which I mention because it is one of my favorite cities and I feel cooler for having been there) and picked up his “novel” Eeeee eee eee in a bookstore, and here is what it is like. The “story” of this irreverent novel loosely concerns Andrew, a young pizza delivery guy, hanging out with friends and just basically dicking around. The tone is sublimely low-key, flat yet somehow compelling, a meandering stream of casual anomie, playful scorn and gently mocking pop culture references. Pulitzer Prize-winning author Jumpha Lahiri pops up as a catch-all simile (e.g., “You’re the Jumpha Lahiri of stealing sh*t from Wal-Mart.”), possibly because her name “looks like a killing rampage.” The style is decidedly unwriterly — I’d call it stream-of-self-consciousness, if there was a stream, but it’s more of a lake, or a pond. Maybe existential; definitely absurd. The title, in case you’re wondering, refers to the sound made by a dolphin, which makes sense given the frequent intrusion of dolphins, bears and moose(s) on the “narrative,” to do things such as (*spoiler alert?!?*) luring Elijah Wood to his doom. As I continued to read I thought the book’s creeping alienation and ennui was filling me with queasy dread, but it turned out I was coming down with a bad stomach flu. But it still could have been the book. I’ll have to read more just because I enjoy his strange vibe, and would like to know how reading Tao Lin feels when it isn’t a prelude to nausea and vomiting. So far Tao Lin has a blog and some books – there’s a new poetry book that just came out, too.