The Quietus - A new rock music and pop culture website

Tome On The Range

Tao Lin's Shoplifting From American Apparel Reviewed
Huw Nesbitt , September 18th, 2009 11:37

Huw Nesbitt finds Tao Lin's new novel as slick and vapid as a pair of shiny leggings from the young girl-loving fashion retailer

Add your comment »

Give Shoplifting From American Apparel a whirl: all 100 pages of relentlessly banal reportage following a fey 20-something gallows bird called Sam and his schoolboy attempts at half-inching stuff from American high street stores. Soak up the boredom, and the blankness. Revel in Lin's clinically vacant, "minimal" style, lifted straight from Hemingway, Bret Easton Ellis, Dennis Cooper, Joan Didion, Ezra Pound and Albert Camus. Hoodwink yourself into believing that Lin is writing with the controlled force of an aged Samuel Beckett as the ex-Dubliner sat down in exile to craft the exquisite, concise and bilious NoHow On trilogy, if you like. I wouldn't bother, though. There's no trace here of the anger, frustration and betrayal that fuelled the Irish slow left-arm bowler's twilight years; just an antagonistic sense of self-pitying indifference.

Less Ill Seen Ill Said, then, and more Sartre's Nausea pushed to shattering point and rendered naked in a tyranny of monotonously clipped sentences, each of which appear to be prefixed with the declaratives: "[He] said" and "[They] thought". Like Nausea, nothing much happens. For a large part, all Sam (Lin's semi-autobiographical protagonist and fellow erstwhile e-writer) does is discusses his life and ambitions for success with other cardboard characters via text messages and online instant messaging services. Elsewhere he gets nicked, twice, for stealing from shops with seemingly no real intent and gets let off both times with community service. He works in a vegan café but lives off cereal. He flirts with women by asking them to give him jumping hi-fives, and then bottles out of sex. He has the emotional capacity and charm of a slug. It ends with Sam telling one of his flunky admirers that he always dreamed of being a marine biologist. Fin.

This however, isn't existential crisis; the absence of narrative shouldn't be mistaken for an allegorical anti-narrative, either. Everything that exists in Shoplifting . . . is so neutered, so self-involved, so purposeless, that it couldn't possibly be against anything.

And that is the point. Because if there's one good thing about this novel, it is that it depicts the total boredom of Lin's subject ('modern life', née 'the human condition') without remiss. If Henry Miller's Tropic of Cancer was a gob in face of god, Shoplifting . . . is a long slow piss in the face of all and sundry, written by a member of a generation that grew up to discover that not only had their parents eschewed divinity, but fear, joy, pain, happiness, hatred and forgiveness too. And as an example of this contemporary nightmare, it's faultless, from the substance of its one, soulless idea to the mundane style of its articulation too.

But it doesn't question anything either, and that's its real failure. Ultimately all this is, is a critique without end or goal; an infinite insult aimed at the entire universe that affirms nothing but would happily send everything to hellfire. In some respects, to have achieved that with such brevity is something to be marvelled at. In others, it's merely a truly terrifying statement.

Indeed, some 25 years ago, critics accused Bret Easton Ellis of being guilty of this, in his debut novel Less Than Zero. A similar work in tone, it followed another vacant, semi-autobiographical, young American male, bereft of purpose and emotion and surrounded by the opulence of upper-middle class suburban LA. Ellis effectively asked the reader, "What can you want, when you want for nothing?" and then took them by the wrist and showed them the end sum — teenage prostitution, prepubescent drug addiction, emotional and physical abuse, rape, torture, murder; the entire grim, Sadeian shebang. But Ellis's unflinching portrayal didn't glorify or posture glibly; it condemned what he saw as the dark, hollow centre of 1980s American culture.

Shoplifting . . . doesn't even attempt such critique. Real art doesn't hinge upon opaque observations and bland reproductions of the world. That's just boundless, patronising cynicism, which invests the artist — like the priest or the monarch — with some clandestine wisdom mere lay folk can only ever hope to experience through the frail edifice of the artist's world, but can never truly understand since everything is reduced to little more than residual, obsolete components anyway. Real art seeks to examine the truth as it is; not through relativism, atomism, or universalism, but by seeking that which once was, irrevocably, true. Lest we forget: Shakespeare's Hamlet might have been a mixed up young lad, but — for better or for worse, and whether by design or volition — he did for his stepdad in the end, didn't he?

Shoplifting From American Apparel is published by the sincerely brilliant folk at Melville House Publishing, and is available now.

If you love our features, news and reviews, please support what we do with a one-off or regular donation. Year-on-year, our corporate advertising is down by around 90% - a figure that threatens to sink The Quietus. Hit this link to find out more and keep on Black Sky Thinking.

gardenhead garden
Sep 19, 2009 8:55pm

You hit the nail on the head. This book is absolutely nothing more than the sum of its parts. And the parts are banal.

Reply to this Admin

David M
Sep 20, 2009 6:46pm

excellent article, thankyou.

Reply to this Admin

Nov 2, 2009 5:20am

re: everything
I think you guys don't 'get it'. The reasons you claim the book is bad is its "point".

Reply to this Admin

blueberries mcbunnyfrog
Nov 7, 2009 7:01pm

Here is who each character is based on:

Audrey, Amanda Farajian
Briana, Bianca Stone
Chris, Chris Johnston
Connie, Jamie Sterns
Hester, Ellen Frances
Gina, Gena Morgese
Jeffrey, Jeffrey Heart
Joseph, Joseph Moore
Kaitlyn, Kelly Ginger
Luis, Noah Cicero
Mallory, Mallory Coppenrath
Moby, Dennis Loy Johnson
Paula, Carmichael Monaco
Robert, Zachary German
Sam, Tao Lin
Sheila, Ellen Kennedy

Reply to this Admin

Nov 26, 2009 12:12am

In reply to blueberries mcbunnyfrog:

thank you for the list

Reply to this Admin

real art
Dec 3, 2009 3:41am

"Real art doesn't... Real art seeks to..."

Reply to this Admin

Mar 17, 2010 2:37pm

Perfect review. Exactly what I wanted to say about this.

Reply to this Admin

Mar 21, 2010 11:07pm

In reply to real art:

hi tao lin

Reply to this Admin

Sep 2, 2010 7:34pm

you're interpreting it as being nihilist, but I feel it's a lot closer to a zen mindset. I enjoy the minimalist prose and think it's a great exercise in style and mood, if not in hammering home some major social message. you don't like the novel because the author isn't making a point, but that's a big part of what I think makes it unique and interesting.

Reply to this Admin

Nov 22, 2010 3:19am

Bad article. Stop trying to prove you read clever books and one day you'll be up to an examination of what this writer, or any writer, is doing.

Reply to this Admin

Sep 23, 2011 5:42am


NFL Jerseys


NFL Caps


NFL Bikini


Arizona Cardinals Jerseys


Cheap NFL Jerseys


NFL Jewelry


NFL Travel Bags


Baltimore Ravens Jerseys

at low price

Wholesale NFL Jerseys


MLB Caps

with cheap price

Soccer Caps


Indianapolis Colts Jerseys

cheap wholesale

Chicago Bears Jerseys

wholesale high-quality

Soccer Jerseys

wholesale cheap

NCAA Jerseys

wholesale discount

Philadelphia Eagles Jerseys

wholesale authentic

San Francisco 49ers Jerseys


Dalls Cowboys Jerseys


NBA Jerseys


Washington Redskins Jerseys


New Orleans Saints Jerseys

with cheap price

NFL Jerseys


NBA Caps


NHL Caps

wholesale well-designed

NBA Swingman


Minnesota Vikings Jerseys


Cleveland Browns Jerseys

wholesale cheap

NHL Jerseys


MLB Jerseys

wholesale discount

New England Patriots Jerseys


Green Bay Packers Jerseys

at discounted price

Pro Bowl Jerseys


Tennessee Titans Jerseys


Pittsburgh Steelers Jerseys


San Diego Chargers Jerseys

Reply to this Admin

Sep 27, 2011 2:07am

Inchanel bagsline, various series that all sold extreme well, such as the chanel 2.55 and chanel coco line. The detail design which are definitely appear to be quite beautiful and exciting. All girls would love to own suchchanel handbags in hand. They all consider such handbags can make one a higher status and show elegant appearance. Come to our chanel outletonline to get one.

In Gucci handbagsline, the new versions are designed for men series which appear to be exposure, and luxury colorways that designed in order to attract much more consumers. For the gucci bags2011 winter, all bags that come along with extreme colorways for you to choose from. So to make yourself fashion enough then just come to our gucci outlet store .

Herve Leger bandagenbsp;is a well-know cloth brand in the world, all the time it is committed to shaping women’s physical beauty and showing gentle sense of female silhouettes. Wearing;Herve Leger Dressnbsp;which beautiful designed and made by high quality materials will make you look charming and sexy. The winter is on the way, so it is necessary for to to own the herve leger saleto make yourself upstate.

Remember Gucci outletspring series women show;floor that dazzling high-saturation of bright colors, and full of “Forest Queen” feel of the tassels, decorative knot it? The gucci handbags designer embodies the intrinsic taste, gucci bagsis sought after by celebrities and fashion objects.;In winter season, the gucci handbags sale would be a great topic.

For these fashion ladies and wealth women, they all like to make themselves in unique style in a share. Quality and style would be the main point of these handbags, especially for the louis vuitton bags. For so many years, the company definitely released quite a lot of louis vuitton handbags in the market, and follow the fashion trend up to now. always theseLouis Vuitton outlet that sold at high price, however you can get the discount louis vuitton handbags in our bags outlet online.

Offering its just potential purchasers within of the previous just one hundred fifty extended time, Louis Vuitton pouches coupled with components are developed with one another with enhanced concerning the repaired pursuit to the caliber.Louis Vuitton Handbagsaccessories tend to be abominable advised for ambrosial application alternating with appearing a faculty authority that’s a lot of apparently in actuality why a lot of higher profile, ?many of the fashion ladies abounding approved afterwards purses and handbags,louis vuitton wallets and sun shades. To buy the excellent bags louis vuitton outletwould be a great choice.

One way for some people to get duped into buying Gucci handbags is when they hear about and come to bargained items sales, midnight markets, and the like. You'll find there, amasingly low priced, products of all kinds, but rarely will the actual items there be the real thing. Bargains aren't bad on their own, but if you're looking for the real Gucci bags, it's best to find trusted stores. The Gucci outlet store can point you to stores in your vicinity.

Louis Vuitton outlet store as one of the most luxurious brand in the world, is famous for leather goods loved by so many enthusiasts, which brings a huge business opportunity for market. We are professional trader for wholesale Louis Vuitton handbags, aiming at filling large demands as well as leading fashion trends.

Reply to this Admin

susanoff lee
Dec 9, 2011 2:29am
coach factory outlet

has been in business for many years. You can log in to find more information about its products and services.

Reply to this Admin

herbalife murah jakarta
Dec 10, 2014 11:07am

I'm really grateful to the author of this post this article by charming and instructive for us live. We actually admire your effort. Maintain the nice work. cara diet cepat dan alami

Reply to this Admin