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Book Review: RICHARD YATES by Tao Lin


Started writing at 1:38PM while listening to Junior Boys – Birthday

My gut reaction to Tao Lin’s RICHARD YATES:

DF (Dakota Fanning) & HJO (Haley Joel Osment) are monotonous, suicidal kleptomaniacs with a sense of humor that, at its best, reminded me of Beavis and Butt-head and sometimes made me laugh (2-4 times), but mostly came off as something a distant acquaintance would say and I’d have to muster all my strength to grin a little and nod my head to avoid having to participate in the conversation.

RICHARD YATES felt longer than ~55,000 words. Pace was calm and steady and slow throughout. I was slightly engaged throughout – no one had to pry the book from my hands to get me to do something else, like drink water or nap. The book didn’t keep me awake, but I did have it on my toy box (which doubles as my night table) and when I woke up the first thing I’d see was its spine:

About 1/4-1/3 of the way into the book, most of the dialogue, whether through Gmail chat or email or text message or phone or face-to-face, didn’t add anything interesting or new to DF & HJO. Their illicit relationship didn’t matter at all to me. I never developed any kind of emotion toward these characters.

Well, that’s a bit of a lie. I felt DISLIKE for the way HJO called DF obese repeatedly, causing her to spiral into bulimia. And at times I had a vague feeling of slight DISLIKE for HJOs persnickety melodrama. His loneliness wasn’t real. His sadness wasn’t real. There was nothing stoic about him. Was he apathetic? Indifferent?


I wouldn’t want to compliment HJO. Apathy and indifference choose their hosts. HJO thinks wearing a hooded sweatshirt and being vegan is enough to become apathetic and indifferent. He tried to choose apathy and indifference, not realizing that these are congenitally beyond his reach.

Q: How would you describe DF & HJO?

A: DF & HJO are their own watery Microsoft Paint doodles unread in their inbox.

Q: What did you like about the book?

A: Um, I read it from start to finish and I think I enjoyed reading it. . . oh yeah,

[HJO] read a bulimia message board for about five hours and thought that the people posting on it seemed logical and funny and extreme in a non-partying-girl manner that seemed attractive to him but also made him feel like “evil” existed in the world and that life was very bleak and scary.

I liked that sentence, especially the word very. I also liked the importance of reciprocity in DFs & HJOs relationship. Tao Lin does a fine job of stressing how critical it is for couples to do things for each other, for one not to feel like he/she is doing more than the other.

Q: Does this book capture the zeitgeist of the generation that looks at computers more than the sky?

A: A small subset, yes.

Q: Is there a quiet poetry inside these ~55,000 words?

A: Not for me. The prose isn’t musical. There’s no cadence.

Q: What did this book teach you?

A: Ernest Hemingway’s minimalism can’t be imitated if your characters are anemic.

Q: Will this book be made into a movie?

A: Well, it wants to be. It reads like a script. Yes, yes, I think it will.

Q: Will you watch this movie?

A: If my girlfriend puts it on her Netflix queue, I’ll watch it, but I can’t promise I’ll stay awake.

Stopped writing at 2:24PM while listening to M.I.A. – Galang


September 4, 2010 3:21 pm

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