Guest Reviewer: Bill Clegg
Bill Clegg, the author of Portrait of an Addict as a Young Man reviews Tao Lin’s new novel, Richard Yates.
Tao Lin’s second novel is called Richard Yates. The two main characters are named Dakota Fanning and Haley Joel Osment. Dakota Fanning. Haley Joel Osment. Richard Yates. Three names. To varying degrees and depending on when and in which circles they get mentioned, famous names. Richard Yates was a writer who achieved some fame, was basically forgotten and then, after his death, became appreciated again. Tao Lin used to use his own name and other not famous names for his protagonists and now he doesn’t. Or at least in this novel he didn’t. Haley Joel Osment is a more famous name than Tao Lin. There is much to suggest – in this book and most everywhere – that fame is a wanted thing. To be seen. To be recognized. To be witnessed. To be special. And now, because of the many portals available to access that status, being seen/witnessed/famous/special is achievable, to varying degrees, for everyone. Haley and Dakota meet through one of those portals online. They talk and text like most everyone. Like this. Like that. He said. She said. You get the idea. And so, the story: He’s 22. She’s 16. They text. They chat. They talk. Eventually, they meet. She binges, barfs, steals stuff, lies. He catches her. He tells her he cares. She promises to stop all the stuff he catches her doing. He reads a novel by Richard Yates. Doubt ensues. A gulf widens. Their future together looks less likely. A formal feeling follows. Everyone ends up a little sadder than before.
There’s a poem by Daniel Halpern called White Field that was written long before the internet happened. I kept thinking about it when I read Richard Yates. It’s about the end of a relationship, starting fresh and looking back at that time and that thing that is now over. That time and that thing are depicted as footprints in snow, filling with new snow, soon to disappear. There’s a line in the poem, near the middle, that reads, All day long you tell yourself how you feel. In Richard Yates, Haley and Dakota tell themselves how they feel. All day long. All night long. In chat rooms, in e-mails, in texts, on the phone. They hear each other for a little while and then hear themselves more. And so the novel, with its famous name characters and its once famous, now famous again name title, wants to be seen and paid attention to; and if you happen to look, you’ll see that it’s saying– shrewdly, brilliantly, in the numb meticulousness of a generation that posts photographs on-line of half-sucked cough drops, about-to-be-eaten meals, and pillows they are about to lay their heads on – that you do, too.