Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Review: Eeeee Eee Eeee, by Tao Lin

Published: April 2007

Finally got around to it: August 2011

Sometimes dolphins knew other dolphins—cousins, uncles—that had died, and they said, “it is sad they died but there is nothing to do except be nice to anyone still alive.” But they themselves had not been nice. They had killed Elijah Wood, Kate Braverman, and Philip Roth—people like that. They had made promises and forgotten. One dolphin had become friends with a man with Down syndrome and the man had written the dolphin a letter and the dolphin had not responded. Another dolphin had made promises to meet a person—had promised, and promised again, a third time—and had not kept them, and it had hurt the person.

And so they said, “I need to be nicer from now on,” and went home.


Bears, moose and dolphins living and interacting with humans, specifically a Florida pizza delivery grunt named Andrew, their lives a collection of half thoughts broken and interrupted with diminishing returns. Anarchy, discussions about depression and Batman, and the slaying of certain celebrities whose existence within the “narrative” makes about as much sense as a garden rake with a ribbed purple vibrator on the end.

This is a first—a novel seemingly spawned not from an idea, or a need/desire/unquenchable lust to write, but from ineffectually deadpan, disaffected boredom. Tao Lin’s first novel reads less like social commentary and more as if the author is sitting in the back of the room, watching the reader and snickering quietly to himself. Eeeee Eee Eeee is minimalism in every sense of the word—from the diction used, the rationale (or total lack thereof) of its protagonist, Andrew, and a complete absence of emotional involvement. This is the literary equivalent of post-modernist art—the let’s-throw-shit-at-the-wall-and-see-what-sticks approach.

Honestly, I would write more, but I can’t begin to crystallize my thoughts on this book. There is no emotional through-line, no purpose beyond embracing the absurdity of our interactions, the men and women we chase after, the jobs we do and people we associate with and bear our souls to. That conceit alone would be enough were the book more than it is—a collection of barely threaded together thoughts poured onto the page in such a staccato manner that one might be forgiven for thinking that the author, writing through the veil of social disaffection, feels even more detached from his own work.

Though I understand and respect the desire to break from the traditional form of a novel, I can’t recommend this book to anyone. The level of disaffection on display moves beyond commentary and falls into the realm of the mundane. Lin’s writing feels divided; he clearly wants to challenge the reader, but lacks the maturity to do so. As a consequence of this, Eeeee Eee Eeee never pushes past the forced entropy of so much first-year poetry and countless student films that want to tilt you back in the dentist chair and ream you out with social commentaries about homelessness and drug addiction and the harsh mistress of being a listless twenty-something trapped in the narrow confines of first-world academia.

There is likely some worthwhile criticism to be culled from Eeeee Eee Eeee, but its form and intrinsic absurdity cripples any message the author might have hoped to impart—if in fact he had a message at all. I’m almost inclined to think of the book as a test, an are-you-smart-enough-to-understand-my-genius rant concocted by the author. Whichever way it’s spun, Tao Lin’s first novel is the most frustratingly vacant book I’ve read in a long time.

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