Tao Lin’s Novel, “Taipei”
I have iconoclastic taste in books, so I often don’t recall how I came to choose one novel or another to read. That is not the case with this one. I was intrigued by the title, the name of one of my favorite cities (I’ve been to Taiwan and Taipei five times). Taipei is also where I’ve set one of my own novels, so I felt I had two good reasons to read Tao Lin’s Taipei.
First of all, Taipei isn’t very much about Taipei. I’d guess over 75 percent of the story is set in New York/Brooklyn. It’s basically a kind of waking stream of consciousness story about Paul, a novelist with a strong penchant for prescription drugs, and eventually Erin, who is also a pill-popping druggie. That’s mostly what the novel is about: taking drugs. Not how Paul or Erin or their friends necessarily feel when they’re stoned or high, but just that they are taking these pill cocktails to, perhaps, avoid living in any semblance of “normal” life. Whatever that is.
I didn’t have a negative reaction to their drugging. After all, they weren’t Sid and Nancy. But it was curious that Lin describes their actions and behaviors – the novel is narrated in the first-person omniscient viewpoint of Paul – who apparently feels nothing for anyone, including himself. It is an interesting perspective, this fascination with Paul and Erin, who are so numbed they can barely muster the desire for sex.
Lin writes in a singularly fascinating style of long, sometimes paragraph long, sentences that wander here and there like the mind of a druggie. At random:
“The late-afternoon sky, in Paul’s peripheral vision, panoramic and mostly unobstructed, appeared rural or suburban, more indicative of forest and fields and lakes – of nature’s vast connections, through the air and the soil, to more of itself – than of outer space, which was mostly what Paul thought of when beneath an urban sky, even in daytime, especially in Manhattan, between certain buildings framing sunless zones of upper atmosphere, as if inviting space down to deoxygenate a city block.”
What goes on in Taipei could have gone on in New York but it didn’t, even though it was all the same kind of absurd stuff that was already going on between Paul and Erin, except that it wasn’t because they are really talking to one another because they are recording themselves to make a video about recording themselves talking to each other. Erin asks Paul if their sex is good for him, and after waffling on answers he finally says, “I don’t think it’s that big a thing for me: sex.”
Which makes one wonder if he would say that were he not gobbling down fistfuls of Ambien, Percoset, coke, acid, grass, Klonopin, booze ,etal.
Taipei reads like a doper’s journal, intense and detailed and emotionally flat and linear to a painful degree. It ends exactly as it began. I regarded it as experimental fiction. I will not say I was eager to resume reading it after having left off, nor was I unhappy when I read the last page: Paul, for some reason, happy to be alive.
Like existential, man.