A Minor Dilemma
The first story in Tao Lin’s Bed — entitled “Love is a Thing on Sale for More Money Than There Exists”, in which a young-twentysomething relationship dissolves as the man slips into self-centered torpor, delivered by Lin in a smartly faux-slacker voice that nearly veils, and thus magnifies, an underlying desperation — is excellent.
Garret’s dreams were increasingly of normal things that, because of their utter messagelessness, had very natural-seeming undertones of foreboding and impending doom to them. In one dream, Garret was in the shower. He soaped himself, dropped the soap, picked up the soap, put it adjacent the shampoo, and read the shampoo bottle. "Pert Plus," it said.
The second story, “Three-Day Cruise”, is similar in tone and style; it’s not clear whether the family in question is subsumed by or transcends its desperation, but desperation is again on tap. Still, it’s pretty good.
Story number three, “Suburban Teenage Wasteland”: more desperation, more faux-slacker smartness. Same with the next story, “Sincerity”, in which a young-twentysomething relationship dissolves as the man … etc. etc.
It’s getting a bit tired.
Which leaves me wondering: am I being unfair? Couldn’t I say the same things about, say, Kafka? (An exploration of alienation, ambiguity and the impenetrability of society, told with the logic and clarity of a lucid dream — again! ) Maybe I simply have a 21st-century attention span, attuned to fragments rather than wholes. Maybe I’m being harsh because I’m feeling harsh these days, and because Lin has the temerity to be just twenty-five years old.
Or maybe it frustrates me when artists perform the same trick again and again. Or all of the above. At any rate, I wonder whether I should continue reading – and risk being so disappointed that I’ll remember even these fine stories with distaste, à la Matthew Derby’s genius “First” after finishing his self-cannibalizing and shit-miserable Super Flat Times — or simply give up.
If only George Saunders could write a book every three weeks or so. Then none of this would be a problem.
Image: Courtesy of Karen Horton, detail of a Takashi Murakami painting of Kaikai and Kiki. Mr. DOB would have worked better in this context.