Tue, Jun 11, 2013 - Page 12 News List

Book review: TAIPEI

A literary mind visits Taiwan’s capital city under the spell of drugs and a Macbook

By Dwight Garner  /  NY Times News Service

He’s especially good on extreme self-consciousness. One young woman seemed “appreciative in an affectedly sincere manner — the genuine sincerity of a person who doesn’t trust her natural behavior to appear sincere.”

This fluid novel also posits that the online world is more addictive, more mind-bending and perhaps more destructive than anything you will find in a pharmacy or buy from a dealer. Almost all of this novel’s metaphors and similes emerge from the author’s experience of the Internet and his sense of the way it is colonizing consciousness.

Paul thinks of “the backs of his eyelids as computer screens.” When he wakes in the morning, he feels his memories downloading into his mind, like PDF files. A social interaction makes him feel “a sensation not unlike clicking ‘send’ for a finished draft of a long e-mail.” When he goes to a bar, he senses he is “beta testing the event by acting like an exaggerated version of himself.”

I liked this paranoid observation: “Paul asked if she could think of a newer word for ‘computer’ than ‘computer,’ which seemed outdated and, in still being used, suspicious in some way, like maybe the word itself was intelligent and had manipulated culture in its favor, perpetuating its usage.”

To employ an image that Lin might have, but did not, Paul mostly blinks mutely, like a cursor, in Taipei. The novel can be so desultory that you think: This is an approximation of how Lou Reed must have felt during the entirety of 1972.

At the same time, it’s possible to imagine Taipei as a future Danny Boyle movie, the director’s eager eye soaking up all those drug-addled trips through Whole Foods. The novel is an ostensibly dead thing that turns out to be quite alive.

Lin’s prose has been compared to that of Bret Easton Ellis’ deadpan early work, and Ellis has done a blurb for Taipei. But there’s also a hint of Ann Beattie in Lin, a hint I hope he will be able to cultivate. He’s a social novelist, writing about young men and women who are largely anti-social. He delivers chilly scenes of winter.

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