Taipei may be Tao Lin’s most mature work, but that isn’t saying much considering that the thirty year old author has made a literary career out of immaturity. And yet, Lin’s third novel and seventh book has been critically acclaimed more than it has been criticized. Jonathan Kyle Sturgeon of The American Reader even makes the grandiose claim that “Taipei is beautifully cut, to be sure, like a diamond.” Critics from a wide range of pulpits have seemed to come to the conclusion that Lin’s parenthetical comma-filled and dash-riddled run-on sentence style is not only unique, but somehow representational of the millennial generation’s collective thought process.
However, claiming that Taipei best reflects the perspective of an American growing up in the digital age assumes that a majority of the newest generation are try-hard apathetic artists with comfy allowances from mom and dad. This is especially frustrating considering that many young Americans are primarily concerned with financial hardship, (unlike Lin’s proxy, Paul, who does not have to consider monetary troubles). Even critics with negative responses to Taipei (such as Ian Sansom of The Guardian and Annalisa Quinn of NPR) miss the point that “Generation Y” does not mainly consist of pseudo-intellectual, faux existentialist, bourgeois pill-poppers, but rather that this specific audience merely has a significant internet-presence.
Clancy Martin’s overtly positive review of Taipei in the New York Times Book Review refers to the protagonist’s interminable travel throughout the novel as “…Paul’s way of being, much more than his pill-popping (which is also nonstop, but doesn’t seem to have much influence on his way of thinking).” After reading Martin’s review, one wonders whether he had actually read the book at all, because the entire plot of Taipei revolves around Paul experimenting with drugs in order to experience life differently (and consequently perceive, or think differently), relieve himself of boredom, and in order to act “normal” when doing readings for his book tour across the country.
It’s understandable that reviewers get excited about a novel that celebrates alternative consumerism with avant-garde, sometimes even skillful prose-poetry. However, the author’s beautiful but clumsy writing does not mean that at Taipei’s conclusion Paul has believably grown from a self-absorbed womanizer into a human being capable of feeling compassion. Regardless of whatever revelation the main character has, the final passage does little to satisfy the reader, who has endured 248 pages of insignificance in order to find out that Paul is “grateful to be alive”. What is clear is that the protagonist has journeyed from a state of inexplicable dreariness, (signified by the opening words of the novel: “It began raining a little from a hazy, cloudless-seeming sky…”) to a state of semi-awareness, (brought on by a psychedelic trip nonetheless) which still falls short of compassion for other human beings.
The fact that critics are claiming Lin’s style to be delineating of his generation is absurd in that it overlooks the novel’s solipsism (in spite of its third-person narration). Yet this narration is a ruse, as Tao Lin, the internet-obsessed and ironic self-publicizing NYU alumni, has openly admitted to merely transcribing “25,000 pages of memory” into roughly 250 pages of a thinly-veiled diary posing as fiction. Through this, Lin is able to convey to the reader his not-so-profound message that other people’s emotions matter, if only in regards to how he, himself, feels.