July 12, 2013 6:01 pm

Tuned out

A writer obsessed with technology and drugs struggles to connect

Taipei, by Tao Lin, Canongate, RRP£9.99 / Vintage, RRP$14.95, 272 pages

 

“At some point, maybe 20 minutes after he’d begun refreshing Twitter, Tumblr, Facebook, Gmail in a continuous cycle – with an ongoing, affectless, humourless realisation that his day ‘was over’ – he noticed with confusion, having thought it was AM, that it was 4:46PM.”

Not exactly thrilling stuff. And much of Taipei, Tao Lin’s third novel, continues in this vein. Paul, 26, is an up-and-coming writer whiling away the days in New York. Above all he likes snorting, smoking and swallowing large amounts of prescription and non-prescription drugs: cocaine, heroin, ketamine, Adderall, ecstasy, LSD, mushrooms and Xanax.

Paul’s drug-taking punctuates his aimless adventures as he goes to parties, visits other cities for readings, gets married in Las Vegas, and stays with his parents in Taipei.

But it is not only drugs that flatten Paul’s experiences. He’s addicted to the internet, too, preferring to tweet or email friends rather than speak to them, even when they are in the same room. He comes to think of “the backs of his eyelids as computer screens”. When he talks to friends it makes him feel “a sensation not unlike clicking ‘send’ for a finished draft of a long email”.

The online world, it seems, is more addictive than anything you will find in a chemist or buy from a dealer. Eventually, it dawns on Paul that “technology had begun for him to mostly only indicate the inevitability and vicinity of nothingness”.

This drug-enhanced, tech-obsessed protagonist invites comparison with the trajectory of the author himself. Taipei is more obviously autobiographical than anything Lin, 30, has written before. Like Paul, Lin is an Asian-American New York urbanite. And like Paul, Lin is known for giving readings while high on ecstasy, for shoplifting, for eating only raw vegetables and fruit, and for cultivating a reputation as a media-savvy (or shameless) self-promoter.

Lin’s prose is occasionally very funny – until its bleakness sinks in – relying on meandering, uninflected assertions with a deadpan finish. Paul’s heavily medicated experiences give rise to an offbeat humour that is derived partly from his problems with enacting the simplest of tasks, such as removing his partner’s clothing. “He expressed confusion and Laura said ‘it’s just a skirt ... and tights’ and stopped moving completely, it seemed, as Paul continued touching her strange outfit with hands that felt glossy and fingerless ...”

It is easy to dismiss this book, written in a dispassionate style, and its author, whose publicity stunts are as fine-tuned as his best prose. But Taipei brilliantly portrays the life of many young men – drifting, hard to reach, bound only to technology and to drugs.

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