Tao Lin, Lorrie Moore, a Chimp Washing a Cat

A note in case anyone ever actually comes across this post again: I later learned about Tao Lins acknowledged, arguably abusive relationship with a much younger person. I've left up posts about him on this blog because I don't want to erase my support of him in the past, but I've removed links to his work so as not to provide continued support now.

I’m reading Lorrie Moore’s Like Life, realizing how directly Tao Lin imitated her in Bed (this is not an unfounded accusation, he’s more or less said so here). Yet somehow that doesn’t take away from my appreciation for Bed at all. Maybe it’s because of the way that Tao Lin’s reflections of other writers—whether it’s Moore in Bed or Anne Beattie in Eeeee Eee Eeee—are so cracked and distorted, in ways that are more idiosyncratic than most writers’ originality, ways that he maybe couldn’t help even if he wanted to. Even the flaws of Moore’s writing get picked up and heightened, as if unconsciously. Example: If Moore uses appositive descriptions along the lines of “the refrigerated smell... the vague shame and hamburger death of it” distractingly often, Lin in Bed uses them more often, more weirdly, and even more distractingly: “the word awning… the complete, incomplete word of it,” “the air conditioner… the biscuit-brown plastic appliance thing of it,” “her teeth, the private collection of them,” etc. What comes through is a kind of untameable unprofessionalism, rough edges and self-indulgences that would be polished away in any decent workshop, but that for Lin constitute something like a voice, one more vibrant than correct, more distinct—even in pastiche—than controlled. An overdriven version of his models that, for all the times I might wince at the weird grammar or repetitive tics, seems worth the costs for the sheer electricity and volume of it.

It’s kind of like watching a chimpanzee wash a cat. Bear with me here. You know the chimp’s only doing it in imitation of a human, you know you’ve seen humans do this a million times before, you even know that a human would, by some standard, do it “better”—but none of that makes it any less funny to watch. Whereas with a human the cat would be the star, somehow the chimp kind of steals the show. And, though the human might be the best way to get your cat clean, you know which one you’d rather watch on an endless loop on YouTube.

Of course, Tao Lin never really uses what he’s called his “Lorrie Moore” style anymore; it’s all about the “concrete style” now. But from what I’ve heard in advance of and about Richard Yates, due out in just weeks, I’m hopeful that he still won’t—still can’t—lose those rough edges.