Minor Love/New Tao

Tao Lin has just published a new story at Vice. It feels like a strange hybrid of Bed and Richard Yates—probably his two most dissimilar books—with a little bit of the neurotic phenomenology of his tweets. In a reversal from Richard Yates, the main character’s internal states are described in agonizing, meticulous detail, but only as if in order to demonstrate why before he didn’t bother: no amount of clinical self-analysis seems to bring the character any useful self-knowledge. Instead, all he can do is wander his way into yet another epiphany about the unmanageable, merciless objectivity of the universe—the same kind of epiphany that ends almost every story in Bed, except by now it feels as awkward and perfunctory as it still is cripplingly beautiful. He’s addicted to the wrong kind of insight: the harder he tries to see into himself and to resolve the emotional problems that are wrecking his relationship, the more desperately he runs back to existential truths that are also therapeutic dead ends. By now even Tao seems tired of it (note the explicitly perfunctory title “Relationship Story”), but it’s too reassuringly true, too satisfyingly revelatory to give up. So on a meta-level the story could be a critique of the entire form of psychological realism that shares the same addiction, just like Richard Yates is but using an opposite strategy.

Like Richard Yates, this story makes me want to buy Tao Lin therapy, which means he’s doing something right because I feel sympathetic even when he draws himself (via another thinly veiled stand-in) as a complete jerk. And like all Tao’s best writing, it’s a masterpiece of minor literature, the kind that can only be praised in terms that sound like insults, and only loved by people who prefer that way of praising. Which is maybe another symptom. Which, since that describes basically all the literature I really love, is something to think about.