Paul, 26, is a Brooklyn writer. He and his friends go to parties, pop a lot of prescription drugs, snort coke, go to more parties, attend art openings, go to literary readings, hang out at all the little “foodie” spots between the Bedford Avenue and Graham Avenue stations along the L line, take more pills, look for girlfriends and deal with the usual problems twentysomethings usually deal with. During their conversations, hardly any one of them can string a sentence together, nor finish a coherent thought and often drift off and reply to questions with non sequiturs. People judge each other over their tastes in music, film, books and art, take more pills, snort more coke, hang around Whole Foods, buy and eat a lot of health food, reference indie films and hip literary novels.
The existential angst of the New York City hipster.
At some point in the story, Paul goes on a cross country book tour, takes pills, snorts coke, hangs out with other people he met on Facebook, they go to literary readings, take more pills, snort coke, and question the meaning of their existence.
Paul marries a girl named Erin in Las Vegas, they take pills, snort coke and eventually travel to Taiwan to visit Paul’s parents. They hang around Taiwan, take pills, wander around, talk about life, marriage and sex, make videos outside the first (or last) McDonalds the city has to offer, they talk some more, that is when either one of them can complete a sentence or have a coherent thought.
I’ve heard a lot about this book and a lot about its author, who seems to be one of the latest “hip Literary darlings” among the hipster set but that sort of thing never interested me, anyway. The literary world is always looking for the latest “literary darling” for some reason and when you consider the amount of writers that are out there, the world over, who are producing very interesting work, the laser-like focus on New York City - and in Brooklyn in particular - always seemed kind of silly to me. Tao Lin can write and he writes beautifully. At times, he reminds me very much of Bret Easton Ellis and this novel seems to want to be Generation Y’s version of “Less Than Zero.” The difference is that in Ellis’s debut, there was more fire, more of a story to tell and a deeply dark twist which reflected the complete and utter vapid nature of the people he wrote about. Lin tries to do the same here - but nothing happens, and that’s precisely the problem - or precisely the whole point, depending on your sympathies towards the world Paul moves around in and describes.
It’s hard to tell whether or not Lin is glorifying and/or paying tribute to the hipster set or completely decimating them. He simply presents it and the reader is to decide this for him or herself. There really isn’t any judgment going on, nor much of anything else, which is a shame because Lin’s prose style is wonderful and I kept imagining what he’d be able to do with it if he had a story to tell here.
This may appeal to those readers he describes so well in this novel but it just didn’t do anything for me. It seems to be about hipsters for hipsters and perhaps because I am not one of them, I just couldn’t relate (and the fact that I’m almost old enough to be the author’s father is probably another reason). This is not Tao LIn’s first book so I won’t judge the writer based on one novel and perhaps I chose the wrong one to sample his work. But in my view, Lin is capable of doing amazing things, that is, if he moves away from the New York writer’s insistence on documenting the minutia of hipsterdom and name dropping all the places in Brooklyn they’d recognize.
The more power to him, I say. It’s good that he’s finding success with this book and I do wish him success in the future. It just didn’t do a thing for me.