Publication Date: 2013
Lacking meaning and direction, Paul goes through the motions of life, failing at relationships, taking increasingly large amounts of drugs, and filming all his interactions in an attempt to make them real.
Taipei is a very modern book, the type of modern book that assumes that the current generation can all be lumped together into one disillusioned mass. Life is meaningless, depression universal, and ennui the only constant. Writing about these things makes your book deep. This book is perhaps the quintessential “literary fiction,” if the excruciating (yet experimental) prose style does not disqualify it from that label.
One does not read Taipei for the plot, because it barely has one. Rather, one reads Taipei to feel part of the cultured avant garde. Perhaps writing about characters who wander around aimlessly having sex and taking increasingly large amounts of drugs is overdone. But that apparently does not preclude a book from being “deep” and “edgy.” If it does, Tao Lin chooses to distinguish his book by writing it in a prose style that can perhaps only politely be called “unique.”
If Lin were not a published author, it would be tempting to call his prose “amateur.” Like many a new writer, he over-describes everything, adding as many adjectives as possible as he goes into excruciating detail about mundane moments. This is, however, deliberate. His adjectives tend to be overly clinical and sometimes a little bizarre; he makes the reader feel the weirdness of life, much like his main character Paul. He even adds everyone’s age after their name (as in Michelle, 21, walked toward Chelsea”) as if writing a movie script. This gives the reader a sense of removal, of alienation–they are observing life from afar, trying to piece it all together.
The clinical over-descriptions are paired with sentences that run on for ages, usually with clauses modifying nothing else in the sentence. Rereading the paragraph does nothing to help the reader make sense of it all, because there is no sense. Again, this seems to mirror Paul’s understanding of life. He is trying to communicate, trying to find meaning, but there is no meaning for him to find. He is going through the motions of life and he does not even know why.
The ending of the book might redeem it for some, as it tries to lift Paul out of his depression and give him something to hope for. Personally, however, I found this to be cheap after a couple hundred pages of watching Paul get high and sabotage every single one of his relationships. If a book is going to be about the meaningless of it all, I want it to have the guts to maintain that outlook through the end.
Taipei is your typical modern book about characters lacking direction and meaning in life, and turning to substance abuse in an attempt to escape their terrible reality. Readers who find that sort of thing deep may want to pick up Taipei. However, I tend to think joy and wonder are more difficult to write than despair–I’ve read too many college pieces on drug usage to be impressed–and I do not relate or subscribe to the idea that life is meaningless. As a result, I was mainly frustrated by Paul and bored by the book. I don’t intend to read another Tao Lin book, if I can help it.