echoes of beckett in tao lin’s shoplifting from american apparel

Lin’s writing is reminiscent of early Douglas Coupland, or early Bret Easton Ellis, but there is also something going on here that is more profoundly peculiar, even Beckettian. The text is woven around large chronological and informational lacunae, which issue near the end in one revelation about a character’s travails that is the more troubling for Lin’s principled refusal to let it disturb the text’s placid veneer. And then comes this, the climax of the book’s ironically skewed phenomenology:

There was a thing on the table and Sam touched it.

"What is this," he said.

They touched the thing and looked at it.

The reader never finds out what the "thing" is, which is thoroughly apt. By the end of this deliciously odd novella, Lin has achieved a fascinatingly consistent performance of the author as Bartleby, the famous scrivener in Melville’s short story whose response to everything is an anti-existentially heroic "I would prefer not to". The text is conscientiously scoured of narrative "purpose", "characterisation", and anything else that would smack of novelistic bullshit. What is left is an attitude, a mood, a comically despairing abandoning of literary ego. Of course, even the anti-egoist writer still wants you to read his book: that, perhaps, is the cutest joke of all.

from Steven Poole in The Guardian, November 14, 2009.

 

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