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Eeeee Eee Eeee by Tao Lin
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Eeeee Eee Eeee (2007)

by Tao Lin

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very clever bordering on lazy. ( )
  lloyd1175 | Mar 22, 2014 |
This is a mixture of teen-style fiction in which aimless, depressed, dissociated, distracted, intermittently violent, unambitious, mainly hapless and harmless kids spend their time at Domino's, Denny's, and the mall; and a self-aware novel by an ambitious young novelist who is really writing to the famous novels a half-generation ahead of him. The two parts make a rum mixture.

1. The fiction about meaningless lives.

This aspect of "Eeeee Eee Eeee" is what has gotten all the critical attention. Tao Lin often writes exactly what comes into his head at a given moment, because his characters all act on whatever comes into their heads, so nothing he invents can be inappropriate, trivial, or irrelevant. Anything and everything can be said and happen, because the world, to these kids, is pretty much empty. A brief example is enough:

"They go to Denny’s.
“I need a wife,” Steve says in a booth.
“I need … I don’t know. I knead bread.”
“We’d go on a shopping spree,” Steve says. “Then she’d leave me and I’d go on a killing spree.” (p. 57)

This kind of trackless, ruleless, apparently free association, which actually expresses lives that have no freedom and nothing but senseless rules, instantly creates a strong mood, which continues without pause through the entire novel. In that respect "Eeeee Eee Eeee" is a very, very distant cousin of "Notes from Underground," in which the leaden, slightly sickened feeling is what matters more than any plot or story.

Of course this writing strategy begs questions of novelistic structure, but that does not bother me: I could almost as easily have read a 500-page version of this book: it's endless easy searches for something to say or to that drive the characters' consciousnesses onward, and form is exactly what's not at stake.

2. Intrusions of the author's voice

The second aspect of the novel is less often noted by critics, and it clashes with the first in odd ways that Tao Lin does not seem to notice or understand. For example, his narrator is capable of rising well above his less-than-zero stream-of-consciousness nearly vegetative way of life. In one passage he thinks:

"He is against capitalism for some reason; something about how it directs human perception away from sentient beings and toward abstractions; he is also against being against things, because the binary nature of the universe is against being against things. (p. 68)

This sounds like the author speaking, not hi character. But then the character adds, as if he's remembering his basic character:

"Still, he wants to cause destruction to McDonald’s."

There are also existentialist moments, when Tao Lin speaks as himself, describing the state of his characters in way they couldn't. (Even though he writes in their voices; eg., p. 96.) Sometimes his characters speak in ways that they themselves would, or should, parody:

"“Irony is so privileged,” Mark said. “It’s what happens when you don’t need to do anything to survive—it’s when the things you do have nothing to do with survival and you spend forty million dollars to make Steve Zissou and the Atomic Submarine or whatever it’s called... Andrew watched the new Batman movie without irony, sincerity, or enjoyment; or maybe a little enjoyment. Outside, he began then did not stop making jokes about believability, pacing, Batman’s smoothies..." (pp. 100-101)

Other passages have a kind of incompletely felt or insincerely articulated nihilism, which also seems ill-fitted to the character's limited capacities for attention or abstract theorizing:

"Fuck you if feel angry at someone else. I’ll kill you. You are stupid and boring. Killing isn’t bad. The only thing to be angry at is existence itself. We all force our assumptions and contexts onto other people. (p. 196)

These are infelicities of narration: moments when the characters are given thoughts that a person like their narrator would have: theories about them and their lives, which wold almost be a necessity for an author like Tao Lin, but which don't sit well in the characters' shiftless, ADD-addled, relentlessly trivial and dreamy lives.

But by far the largest dissonance between the characters' lives and the author's voice is the principal character's ambition to be a successful novelist. It is utterly unbelievable that the name Jhumpa Lahiri would continually spring to the mind of the main character, who is on the point of losing his job as a pizza delivery boy, and who shows no signs of reading anything until his thoughts begin to be peppered by the names of famous living writers. If Tao Lin had realized this was so implausible, he could have remedied it by writing some passages about the character's library and his reading. The fact that the book has almost no such passages (there is one brief mention of his attempts to send out short stories, and getting lots of rejections), shows that Tao Lin is unaware of himself here. His own mind is clearly filled with jealous and ambitious thoughts about Lahiri, Rushdie, and others, and because he's writing quickly, he lets those thoughts fall onto the page. But they just do not fit: they remind readers that the book they're reading was written by a very ambitious writer, and that reminder has nothing to do with the gormless characters and their endless fantasies.

There is one passage where Tao Lin seems to realize this is a problem, and trie to write his way around it. He has had a character mention Pessoa -- someone who is absolutely unknown in the kind of trackless suburbia of "Eeeee Eee Eeee," but who is absolutely central in circles of twenty-something ambitious writers of literary fiction. Here is the passage in which Tao Lin has his characters say whether or not they've heard of Pessoa. (The main character, Andrew, imagines he's at dinner with the president, an alien, and a dolphin.)

“You’ve read Fernando Pessoa?” Lelu said.
“You have?” Andrew said to Lelu.
“Yeah, you?”
“Yeah,” Andrew said.
“You?” Andrew said to the dolphin.
“Yeah,” the dolphin said.
“Have you?” Andrew said to Shawn.
“No,” Shawn said. “Who is he?”
“A Portuguese author,” the moose said. The bear slapped the moose.
“Who hasn’t read this person?” Shawn said loudly. Everyone had read Fernando Pessoa.
“You should just leave,” the president said to Shawn.
“I already ordered,” Shawn said.
“Just leave money for what you ordered,” the president said.
Shawn took out his wallet. (p. 200)

This chafing between two kinds of writing is compelling, but unformed, and in the rest of the book it's inadvertent. To me, it's the most interesting quality of the novel. I hope Tao Lin acknowledges his ambition, and his knowledge, and weaves them into his next project. ( )
1 vote JimElkins | Sep 11, 2013 |
"Eeeee Eee Eeee" is comparable to one long Zen koan. It forces you to analyze the legitimacy of your own logic after perceiving the world through the character's existential crises. Lin's writing style is minimalist with laser-like precision. ( )
  Willstoc | Aug 27, 2013 |
tao lin's characters hate
and they hate that they hate
and they hate that nobody cares that they hate
and you will hate them
and you will hate that you hate them because they are so pitiful
and you will find yourself hating everything they hate

actually, nobody hates anybody, as that would require far too much effort and what's the point, really, when everyone else can do the hating for you and it won't accomplish anything when they do and thus you adding in your own hatred won't make anything any different and you'll all end up in the same place anyways, lonely and, eventually, dead.

tao lin captures in writing what, for somewhat obvious reasons, other authors have pointedly ignored all throughout the history of the novel. he writes apathy, the state when actions are taken only in fits or starts, always on a whim and never followed through with, and in every direction at once so that the net motion is null.

about halfway through this book, the copy i bought suddenly starts over again; apparently the first half of the book got glued in twice. kind of perfect. ( )
  shmibs | Jun 28, 2013 |
Read the first 60 pages because Jud was curious...it was strange.
  JennyArch | Apr 3, 2013 |
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