(SPOILER ALERT: many details of novel are revealed within. You should probably read for yourself first, if you are the sort of person who doesn’t like reading any excerpts from a book before reading it or whatever.)
(Also: this is way too long for an online thing. Sorry. I honestly don’t know what happened. Feel fairly certain only people who will read this all the way through are Tao Lin and Megan Boyle, and possibly Zac Zellers.)
had conversation with Cameron Pierce about reviewing Marie Calloway and Tao Lin’s new books, both of which were due out June 1st. Got contact info of a woman at Vintage from Cameron. Pretended to woman I was going to write a review of Taipei even though I have never written a book review. (Had Chloe Caldwell ask Gian to send me a review copy of What Purpose Have I Served in Your Life, similarly.) Read Taipei advance on my Kindle in two days without taking notes, tripling “normal bedtime reading time” to do so. (By contrast, read What Purpose off and on over the course of last three months, taking extensive notes throughout, only to decide in the end not to review it or write anything about it due to not feeling smart enough or articulate enough or smart or articulate in the way people who write book reviews all the time are, and also feeling like every person should form their own opinion regarding the book, rather than adopting the opinion of someone who writes book reviews or is known to be a “feminist” or an “anti-feminist” or “jokey” or “serious” regarding such matters.)
received final copy of Taipei in mail from Vintage. Felt excited removing it from official looking envelope. Felt slightly “historical” or like I was a real “book reviewer” or something else requiring quotation marks. Studied author pic on back cover. Seemed surprising Tao Lin was Asian-American, like I had forgotten, but then also, seemed like in picture he looked less Asian-American than I remembered him looking in person. Wondered what Blake Butler meant by his blurb. Seemed like you could say what he said about Taipei about any book. Like, every book “forces most any reader to respond,” whether the response is negative or positive or indifferent. Thought it was funny that the Bret Easton Ellis blurb was taken from a tweet. Seemed perfect considering the amount of Twitter references in book. Thought: surprised no one has livetweeted reading the book yet.
felt interested by Paul’s comments on page 7 and 10 regarding Paul (Tao) only going to events and having friends in order to meet girlfriends. Have interacted with Tao via email semi-regularly over last six months, with increasing interest in maintaining some sort of long-term correspondence or friendship due to shared common publishing history and liking similar books and authors. Feel unsure if we will ever be “real friends,” however, due to him seeming to have only one or two close male friends with whom he corresponds and a “girlfriend,” and zero potential for me to be either of those.
got the sense on pages 12 and 13 that Tao is (at least on occasion) one of those “the universe is against me” types, after reading following two lines, “that the universe (and himself, a part of the universe) was articulately against him” and “…these intuitions manifested in Paul as an uncomplicated feeling of bleakness – that he was in the center of something bad.” Have never felt the center of any universe or that the universe was “against me” but have known one or two men who have seemed to feel this. Considering now if this is a “male thing.”
wondered briefly around page 17 why Tao was using so many adjectives. (“something staticky and paranormally ventilated”, “a delicately waking Paul”) Could not remember any of his previous books using as many. Got the feeling he was trying to “do something different” or prove himself capable of varying writing styles. Remembered first time reading Taipei having trouble getting through the beginning due to overlong sentences, but then after the first forty pages or so, not having trouble again.
at first mention of Charles on page 20 thought about how “Charles” is likely stand in for Brandon Scott Gorrell and how in a previous book, the person the narrator was emailing and G-Chatting with was probably Noah Cicero. Wondered if Tao still G-Chatted regularly with Noah or BSG, or if there is a high turnover rate on people he regularly corresponds with, meaning soon he won’t be emailing with me either (even though frequency with which we email is comparatively very low and almost always instigated by me).
feel like thing with Paul’s mother and sugar is somehow symbolic or similar to or comparable with Paul’s thing with drugs. At some point Paul “catches” his mother using real sugar in her coffee and she looks ashamed and says her life feels “empty” without it and later she is writing Paul emails expressing her concern over his growing drug use, though he seems unashamed, if not outright annoyed and threatens to cease contact with her if she continues to express concern.
who is Rilo Kiley?
surprised by several “Woody Allen” moments in book in which Paul tries being humorous with a potential romantic prospect, such as Amy, a person described as having an online magazine. At some point during a party, while attempting to talk to Amy, Paul feigns a phone conversation. Amy seems confused by what is happening, and Paul is forced to explain he wasn’t really talking to anyone. “’Just kidding,’ said Paul grinning weakly.” Felt endeared by such scenes in similar way I am endeared by similar scenes in Woody Allen films.
somehow felt “better” during scene in which Paul eats “cheese, a burger, apple pie, chips.” Had only imagined Paul/Tao eating completely healthy foods, like green smoothies and salads, 100% of the time.
was intrigued by early scene with Laura, a person Paul sees off and on romantically for a while, in which he is showing her his artwork and she is acting as though she is seeing it for the first time, despite his knowledge that “according to StatCounter, she’d already seen on one of his websites.” Felt suddenly concerned regarding what my web browsing may have revealed to various individuals that I was unaware at the time it was revealing. Felt also like every person online is an accidental stalker.
seemed funny, like a “Seinfeld scene,” when Paul texts his roommate he will pay her five dollars if she leaves on the bathroom fan for the night so Paul’s date can sleep.
sometimes, especially in the parts detailing Paul’s childhood, the text reads like a “Your Life Story (on a postcard)” by Michael Kimball: “Paul cried the first day of preschool for around ten minutes after his mother, who was secretly watching and also crying, seemed to have left.”
but also, these flashback scenes to Paul’s childhood, are, maybe, my favorite scenes in the book.
seems interesting that as a child Paul was ridiculed for his bad breath, after which he was always sure to brush his teeth, and much later, when Paul and Erin are married, he asks her how his breath smells, and makes point of having an agreement with her to tell one another if they smell or their breath smells (which causes Erin some distress when Paul nags her about showering in Taiwan).
feel like you will know a lot about Paul (and maybe Tao, if we are to take this as fictional memoir or to assume a lot of the novel is based on Tao’s life, which it seems a fairly reasonable thing to assume) by following two sentences:
“Two months into freshman year he had committed to not speaking in almost all situations.”
“He ate lunch alone, …”
seems like Paul’s most lasting and passionate relationship is with his mother. Feels sort of Tennessee Williams’ish (or Edward Albeesque?) at times. There is a lot of screaming and crying on both sides through out high school, that goes hand in hand with a frequently traveling father and older, out of the house brother.
“In Paul’s sophomore or junior year he began to believe the only solution to his anxiety… would be for his mother to begin disciplining him on her own volition.”
“His mother would need to create rules and punishments exceeding Paul’s expectations…”
“Paul tried to convey this in crying, shouting fights with his mother lasting up to four hours, sometimes five days a week.”
thought about how most of the romantic relationships Paul has (or maybe I am overlapping all romantic relationships in Tao Lin stories/novels, e.g. the one in Richard Yates and the one in here with Erin) are controlled by Paul, how he seems to have the “upper hand,” and how the females seem to “walk on eggshells” around him, often altering their opinions and behaviors to fit his. Wondered if “secretly” or even “subconsciously” Paul/Tao hoped the women would “take control,” as he’d wanted his mother to do.
thought: Tao is not one of those people who has to be the “hero” of his own novels.
(thought: this is part of why I am interested in maintaining a friendship with him.)
at first mention of Ann Arbor segment of Paul’s book tour, felt nervous, wondering if I would be referenced sarcastically or if the reading would be talked about in a negative way. Was relieved when there was no mention of either me or the reading, only of its existence as a place he would have to go.
later when Paul talks about being “on drugs” for most of the readings, I wondered if Tao had been on drugs in Ann Arbor. Decided he probably wasn’t because Ann Arbor is such a small city, one he would naturally care less about in terms of “performing.”
first reference to Erin, on page 90, felt similar to first reference to Mildred halfway through Of Human Bondage; like, okay, here we go.
on page 97, between sections that detail time Paul and Erin spend in Ohio with “Calvin” and “Maggie” (Jordan Castro and Mallory Whitten), I wrote: Manson Family, in large black letters.
got caught up in wondering if there is an apostrophe after Lil in Lil Wayne’s name while reading section on Lil Wayne documentary so that instead of focusing on Paul’s argument concerning whether a “drug problem” is a real or imagined thing, focused on making mental note to Google search Lil Wayne, feeling fairly confident that I was right (apostrophe) and that the Vintage editors were wrong (no apostrophe). (Of course I was wrong. Of all the rappers I could think of with Lil in their name (Lil Wayne, Lil Jon, Lil Shaggy), only Lil’ Kim uses an apostrophe. (Ope, no, wait: Lil’ Bow Wow, back in the day, before he grew up, y’all!))
this line: “Erin said she wore purple and put glitter on her eyes every Friday in fourth grade because she thought, if she did, aliens would notice and take her away,” may be most interesting in book, because of the “fight” it incites between Erin and Paul (Paul thinks maybe she “borrowed” this story from a children’s book, either consciously or subconsciously) early in their relationship, in which she finally admits, two pages later, that Paul isn’t the only person she has told this story to, as she originally claimed two pages earlier, and also because I remember Megan Boyle telling this same story on Brad Listi and sort of having same reaction to it that Paul has in the book…that it somehow felt familiar, but maybe that is only because it would make an interesting part in a children’s book.
here is some dialogue from the conversation regarding if Erin had told anyone else about putting glitter on her eyes and wearing purple in fourth grade (for ease of both typing and reading, I am going to punctuate as it is in the book, not how you should punctuate it when quoting dialogue from a book):
“You said I was the only person you’ve told.”
“I know,” said Erin. “I shouldn’t have said that.”
“Did you forget? Yesterday?”
“No, I knew. I was nervous – I thought I was talking too much.”
“But I was asking you about it.”
“I thought I was boring you.”
“You weren’t,” said Paul. “At all.”
“I just wanted to, like, move on.”
“Don’t do that. If I ask something I really want to know.”
“I know. I don’t want to do that.”
“You lied…to me,” said Paul, and felt dramatic and self-conscious.
If I cut the dialogue here, would seem sort of…like Paul is borderline abusive, emotionally, at worst, controlling, at best. And reminds me of the beginning stages of my first marriage, in which I was constantly trying to prove myself to my husband, who seemed to consistently distrust me, for unknown reasons, which were most likely insecurities on his part. I sort of…I don’t know - people always say “cringed” here - reading this. Remembering how awful it is to be in Erin’s position in that scene, like no matter what you say, the other person will find a way to make you untrustworthy, so they can prove themselves “right” about you.
But then Paul goes on to say, “Wait, let me think. I’m thinking if I were you…if I would lie about that. I think…yeah, I would, if I didn’t want to talk about it.” And then in a minute, “I understand, I think.”
And kinda/sorta saves it. Though also, not really. The “damage” has already been done, he has already shown his initial reaction is to not trust her, and so Erin is going to continue to “walk on eggshells” around him, knowing everything she says and does will be overanalyzed and presented back to her as evidence of something negative about her.
a couple pages later, I am back to being endeared by Paul (okay, I tell myself, so Paul is flawed, too. As much or more so than Erin. Tao is showing them both in a very honest portrayal. No one comes off “better” than another. Which is, once again, what I admire about Tao’s writing), who we find sleeping in his rental car at the airport after his Ann Arbor reading, waking (“around 2:45 a.m.”) to eat a Filet-O-Fish at McDonald’s and then two apple pies from Checkers.
feel confused on difference between “MDMA” and “ecstasy.”
read “the movie of his life finally ending, the credits scrolling down the screen,” and thought about how almost every writer resorts at one time or another to seeing their life as a movie, how the cliché either never gets old or there is no other way to accurately depict how we see ourselves in our minds; how I was shocked recently to find that even Anne Carson, in The Glass Essay, which I read just before Taipei, talks about her memories in terms of them being on a videotape she can watch in her head,
“I can feel that other day running underneath this one
like an old videotape – here we go fast around the last corner
up the hill to his house, shadows
of limes and roses blowing in the car window
and music spraying from the radio and him
singing and touching my left hand to his lips.”
the obsessive tendencies attributed to Paul early on in his relationship with Erin are both somewhat “shocking” and also “comforting” - to those of us with “obsessive tendencies,” at least. Reading the following passage I found myself wide-eyed and saying to myself, probably aloud, “even I would not have thought to do that.”
“Paul…allowed himself to become ‘obsessed,’ to some degree, with her, anyway, reading all four years of her Facebook wall and, in one of Chicago’s Whole Foods, one night looking at probably fifteen hundred of her friends’ photos to find any she might’ve untagged.”
He does not, unfortunately, say if he found any (untagged photos) or what they were if he did.
The day before reading this section of Taipei, I had been listening to a podcast with an author of several nonfiction books who said he felt “most relaxed” when he had one thing to obsess over for a week or longer. I thought about how that seemed true; how an “obsession” is a distraction from yourself, like a drug or a sport or a child or a religion, and focusing on it, rather than on yourself, is relaxing. So by spending hours looking for photos of Erin on the Internet, Paul was avoiding his own feelings or emptiness or loneliness and instead, “relaxing,” in a way I have found myself doing numerous times, late at night, on the computer.
a few pages after this, when there is a lull in his communication with Erin, Paul is seen briefly “becoming more ‘obsessed’” with another woman, a journalist who has just interviewed him, reading articles by her online, before quickly realizing, due to the “curtness of Alethia’s emails” that they “hated” each other.
had short-lived “fantasy” around page 155 in which it is mentioned that Calvin’s father has sent Paul Omaha steaks for Thanksgiving, of searching Internet to find out where Calvin/Jordan’s father’s dentistry practice is located (remembering, from Brad Listi interview, that his father is a dentist in Ohio), making an appointment there, and seducing him…felt humorous to me, like a scene in a comedy, for about three seconds, anyway. Like, I’ll livetweet seducing Jordan Castro’s father in a dental chair! Lol.
had thought somewhere around this section how it was interesting or surprising, maybe, how we are never privy to Paul and Erin saying “I love you” to each other at any point in the book, even as they get married, on a whim, in Vegas. Felt very curious to know if these words were avoided IRL, or if Tao cut them for effect or what.
skipping ahead, as way of example, to page 174:
“How do you feel about me compared to your other boyfriends?”
“I like you more,” said Erin.
“Than all of them?”
“Yeah,” said Erin.
“I like you –“
“You – “ said Erin.
“ - more also,” said Paul.
Which feels…I don’t know. The reader’s tendency here, I guess, or, I should say, my tendency here, is to say, this sounds like a fourth grade conversation, or, the conversation of Autistic persons, though I admittedly don’t really even know what the conversation of Autistic persons sounds like, I just hear other people throw that phrase around and so my knee jerk reaction is to use it myself, irresponsibly. But maybe, maaaaayyyybbbeee, Paul and Erin are merely more honest than most of us, in their discussion of their feelings for one another? In using the word “like” rather than “love”? But also, too, I am surprised (though not really? Given his past “interrogation” of Erin over the glitter and purple-wearing) by Paul’s need to qualify their “like,” to compare it to how much she felt for those who have come before him. Paul/Tao, would seem, in his high level of intelligence and thinking/objective reasoning, to be able to realize the ineptness or irrelevance of such a conversation. Like, “existentially,” it just doesn’t mean anything. (A similar topic of conversation as played out in The Stranger, “That evening Marie came by to see me and asked me if I wanted to marry her. I said it didn’t make any difference to me and that we could if she wanted to. Then she wanted to know if I loved her. I answered the same way I had the last time, that it didn’t mean anything but that I probably didn’t love her.”)
Then again, Paul has shown himself about as insecure and needy as the rest of us, and less likely, in romantic encounters, to be objective. And one wonders how objective Camus was in his own “real” life vs his “novel” life.
it should be mentioned that on page 156 is the first mention of “the red backpack” which seems to be highly symbolic of something, like “rosebud;” of something comedic and sad simultaneously. Felt like book could have been titled “The Red Backpack,” due to how significant it feels.
then on pages 162/163 there’s another “interrogation” scene between Paul and Erin at the airport, regarding where she went and who she called while he was sleeping, the dialogue of which, in this case, seems less relevant than the descriptions of each person:
“ - said Paul self-consciously.”
“ - said Paul with aversion toward himself.”
“ - said Erin, and without noticeable change in her slack posture, facing the empty cafeteria, began crying a little.”
“Paul carefully held her – weakly, tiredly ‘hating himself,’ he felt - ...”
“Paul continued asking questions…”
“- said Erin, and Paul eased her into a lying position, on her side with her head on his lap, and alternated feeding her and himself pineapple chunks.”
pg 168. oh, Taipei is in Taiwan
experienced feelings of envy and intrigue as Paul and Erin raced around Taiwan making films on their MacBooks, in similar way to how I felt when seeing a link to one of their films IRL on HTMLGIANT after Tao and Megan got married, like they were living out a modern day Warhol fantasy story many of us would like to live out rather than remaining mostly secluded in our apartments and houses merely writing short stories and novels, like their lives were urban and modern and glamorous and ours were comparatively drab and colorless. (Just had thought while typing that perhaps a better comparison (better than the Warhol one) would be to F. Scott and Zelda, the intoxication of their early married life...which then led, ultimately, to …unglamorous circumstances for both members of the partnership; though now that seems way too dramatic and heavy and not accurate for Tao or Megan.)
seemed “unusual” to me that Paul, at age 28, has never spent twenty days consecutively with a girlfriend before Erin.
seemed equally “surprising” Paul and Erin seemed not to have discussed birth control until page 177.
pg. 179. a reference to Chilly Scenes of Winter being one of Paul’s favorite books, a book I had not heard of, by Anne Beattie, a book “Michelle” (a woman Paul dated before Erin: probably Ellen Kennedy) gave only two stars on Goodreads after her breakup with Paul.
LOL on page 181 at Tao’s adding into a discussion that Paul is “good” at sex (which seems comparable to female writers putting in when a man tells their stand-in main character she is “beautiful” or “sexy” or “good at blowjobs” or whatever; you gotta make an eye roll, right?):
“No, you’re good at everything ---“
“--- and you keep it interesting,” said Erin.
“And I have orgasms…regularly.”
another cringe worthy, honest moment comes when Erin asks Paul, “…do you have any problems with my body?”
And a little while further into this dialogue:
“I think what matters to me most, in terms of that, is just that things aren’t getting worse.”
“Yeah,” said Erin. “Me too.”
“I think I can get fixated on that neurotically.”
“I do with myself definitely,” said Erin. “You mean for yourself?”
“No, said Paul. “Other people.”
“How do you mean?”
“I can become fixated on it.”
“On, like, in what way?”
“On what the other person weighs.”
“Oh,” said Erin
And I sort of immediately thought of last year’s season of The Bachelorette, and how there was this guy on there, Ryan, who, when asked by “the bachelorette,” what he would do if she gained weight after they married, replied, “I’d love on you a little less.” And how “all of America” seemed to hate him after that. But I think I thought of that more humorous situation because the one between Erin and Paul felt so awful, like Erin must realize in that instant, she’s totally fucked, as far as Paul goes, anyway, because she will never be “skinny enough” for him, which he even self-admits later, is just a way of finding fault with her, that it could be something else, if not her weight, to find fault with. Which is funny if you’re a contestant on The Bachelorette or the main character on Seinfeld, but is not really conducive to any sort of long-term “healthy” relationship IRL.
“On Christmas Eve, when Erin returned from the bathroom and lay on the bed, ready to sleep, it seemed, Paul asked if she’d had any thoughts, since arriving in Taiwan, about showering.”
My first thought upon reading this sentence was to laugh at the sheer outrageousness of such a comment, to think to myself, “who says shit like that?” But then I realized, I do. I say horrible, awful shit like that to people I care about way more than I am comfortable thinking about. Even in the moment it feels horrible. Like, why the fuck am I saying this horrible thing?
pag 213. Crossed out “on the theme park of Earth, always open,” as though I were editing the book.
felt somewhat annoyed with Paul and Erin on page 214, when they go to see Somewhere but leave after only a few minutes to discuss their relationship instead.
felt confused by reference to Paul eating his fries with butter.
pg. 218. Saddest sentence in book:
“It’s just that my car is broken,” she said earnestly. “I can’t get away.”
Trust me on this one.
pg 219. felt confused by mention of “pink tablets,” which Erin “eats” in front of a window. Why we are not told what they are, when we are told what everything else is.
pg. 223. Back with Calvin and Maggie, Paul suggests they have an orgy and film it, but Maggie, being underage, doesn’t want to film it.
“It’s not worth doing at all if it’s not filmed,” said Paul.
Which reminded me of that scene in Truth or Dare in which Warren Beatty mockingly says something like, “Why would you ever say anything off camera?” to a doctor who asks Madonna if she’d like to speak off camera.
a lot of the time when Paul and Erin speak to each other, particularly toward the end, it feels like they are in a bad therapy session:
“I know. I’m sorry. I was trying to make a joke. It was…’in bad taste,’ I guess.”
“Don’t apologize about that,” said Paul.
“I misinterpreted what you said,” she said facing away. “I don’t want to do that in the future.”
kept having the thought “Calvin” and “Maggie” were “modern day flower children.” Like, maybe they actually were waiting for Paul to tell them who to murder.
keep thinking about sentence, “…deliberately remained friendless …to focus on writing,” as something the majority of people are unwilling to do, but a tiny faction of people are happy to have as an excuse.
the vomiting (by Paul) starts on page 232 (and continues on almost to end of novel), unleashing all my internal thoughts/fears/obsessions concerning vomiting, which are the main reason I never take drugs/get drunk/eat things I think might give me food poisoning/have a fear of flying. In most of my dreams, or the ones I remember, someone is vomiting. Never me. Usually a “background person.” The whole thing seems unexplainable. I honestly don’t know what’s wrong with me.
pg. 238. “Erin and I made a porn.” Immediately felt surprised this hasn’t “gotten out,” if in fact, this is not a fictionalized part. Felt uncertain about viewing likelihood. Pictured Zac Zellers watching intently.
pg. 242. “Paul emailed Erin while she showered…(they’d agreed to type, not talk, whenever one of them, currently Paul, felt unable to speak in a friendly tone).”
Something about this felt like a Miranda July story or film scene. In a good way. Very “2013.”
having déjà vu about writing this while writing this.
ending scene, in which Paul believes he has OD’D on heroin until Erin reminds him, “You can’t overdose on mushrooms,” feels good/satisfying/philosophical (I want to put philosophical in quotes here because as I type the word I hear people groaning, “philosophical? What does she mean by philosophical? I bet she can’t even define the word philosophical.” But then I don’t. Because I guess I don’t really care.).
“…he’d written books to tell people how to reach him, to describe the particular geography of the area of otherworld in which he’d been secluded.”
Even if we, the readers, have no real idea, still, of how to do that.
but feel like last scene with Erin, in which she leads Paul to the window to get a grasp on the physical world, is endearing/sweet/a better place to stop:
“Erin was pointing at the sky, asking if Paul saw ‘that thing’… As Paul said he did, and that it looked pretty, he felt like a sleepy child willingly distracted from worries about a lost pet by a mother pointing at a star saying ‘everything will be okay, just focus on the twinkling – that’s where we came from and where we’ll be again, no matter what happens here, yes, I promise.’”