Saturday, October 16, 2010

A Kind of Gnawing Offness

In the latest issue of the London Review of Books, I take a look at Tao Lin’s new novel, Richard Yates, along with his five previous books—and I consider his method for rendering online experience in his fiction (more successfully, I think, than Daniel Kehlmann does):
In an email exchange published earlier this year, David Gates asked Jonathan Lethem: ‘If I write about people for whom the internet is—as far as the reader can see—peripheral or nonexistent, am I not essentially writing historical fiction?’ If the answer is yes, then nearly every major author in America is now writing historical fiction. Writers seem stuck on the challenge of depicting the seamlessness with which the internet is already woven into our lives. Lin’s solution is to do what writers have done with handwritten letters for centuries. He quotes from instant messaging conversations extensively in both Shoplifting from American Apparel and Richard Yates, but he punctuates them the same way he punctuates the other dialogue, and everything is spelled correctly. This sacrifices some degree of verisimilitude—there are no real-life typos, and capital letters (unusually for him) are in the proper places—in order to show that online conversations don’t stand out anymore for many of us; they certainly wouldn’t for Lin’s characters. And they don’t stand out in his prose either.
If you subscribe to the LRB, you can read the rest here. If not, well, Lin has put up the whole thing on his site, so...

(Above, Tao Lin poses for a parody of this Jonathan Franzen/Time magazine cover.)