I believe that Tao Lin is sometimes misread and held up as an example of that which he interrogates in his fiction. What is true of the zeitgeisty US author who preceded him and to whom Lin is sometimes compared – Brett Easton Ellis – is not true of Lin. Both seem to be considered by some as arch ironists, operating in a zone outside of political conviction. But Lin sees the inside and outside of a mode that Ellis operates entirely within. Lin, I think is deeply moral, deeply political. For example, he seems to have spent the last five or six years quietly, and sincerely, plotting a way to escape the frightening merry-go-round of hyper capitalism. His next novel will be called Leave Society.
This story, collected in the most recent Granta book of US short stories, describes a couple, Garret and Kristy, living in an allegorical version of the United States. They are well intentioned. They are would-be activists. They go to anti-war meetings. They are vaguely aware that something is deeply wrong in the world that time has forced them to inhabit, and that they are not getting the full picture. Both react to it in different ways but it is clear from Lin’s narrative, that the author knows something is not right in the west. From the get-go there is miasmic talk of terrorists, but terrorists never appear. They grow as fictive spectres in the text. The ideas around them become increasingly paranoid. Are they burrowing under houses? Do they live inside walls? Reading it, I recollect Kafka’s ‘The Burrow’, and I think, well, it’s good that Lin is out there, somehow getting this vibe down on paper, holding a mirror up to his time.
Collected in New American Stories, Granta, 2015. Available to read online on Lin’s website here