Currently reading… or more accurately, finished reading…

21 May

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… ‘Shoplifting from American Apparel’, an autobiographical novella by Tao Lin, that spans two years in the life of a young writer with a cultish following.  Lin writes in a detached, minimalist style (which continues onto the cover – how apt), avoiding any overt description of feelings and emotions, providing the bare minimum in pretty much all aspects.  In some ways, his approach is rather refreshing and contrasts with the laboured characterisations and narrative so many writers seem to favour.  Lin definitely abides by the rule: show, don’t tell.  This simplistic style is fitting with the novella’s prevalent themes of depression, apathy, ennui and loneliness and on several occasions, I found myself empathising with the protagonist’s aimlessness and quest to find something more meaningful in life.

Relationships are a major theme in the novella and the reader follows the protagonist, Sam’s brief dalliances with a number of girls after we learn that he has broken up with his long-term girlfriend, Sheila.  The reader later learns that Sheila is on drugs to alleviate her depression after the break-up and undergoing treatment at a ‘mental hospital’.  All characters are referred to by their first names which depicts the transience of most of the connections we make in life.  You meet people along the way, most of whom you only get to know briefly.  You are exposed to a snippet of someone’s personality when you both happen to meet on the same path but the path vacillates and it is very unlikely you ever truly know someone.  You only remember people by first names and they soon become distant characters in your old memories.  The frequent references to making friends online and video games heightens the sense of alienation and loneliness in Sam’s world.  These types of melancholy themes are explored in the novella with a surprising lightness and subtlety which I really enjoyed.

However, this novella is definitely straddling the esoteric, obscure, ‘too-cool-for-school’ border, with its frequent contemporary references.  Sam and his online friends chat via Gmail; he works in a vegan cafe and Lin slips in references to Kafka.  While I liked the overarching themes explored in this novella, I found the meandering plot a little too directionless at times and the style of speech started to grate.  However, I have definitely never read anything like this before and it painted a comprehensive stark picture of the disaffected Generation Y in today’s world.

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