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Christopher Burns Christopher Burns
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Anxious, nervous, hip Taipei'

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Tao Lin's latest novel captures a generation plugged in

For every generation, there is a list of artists and writers trying to capture the spirit of the age. Few come close - F. Scott Fitzgerald and Jack Kerouac are candidates. No doubt Tao Lin's aim with his current novel was more modest, but truly it is an honest portrayal of what has come to be known as The Internet Generation.

'Tapei' (Vintage, $11.43) is Tao Lin's latest novel. Still in the flowering stage of his career, his other works include 'Richard Yates' and 'Shoplifting from American Apparel.' This provocative novel makes an excellent addition to his budding oeuvre.

It is a novel about being young, hip, plugged in and drugged. Paul, 26, is a writer and filmmaker. Phrases that describe him include 'alienated,' 'neurotic,' 'anxious' and 'temporarily charismatic.' He navigates in a melancholic haze through Manhattan's literary scene with an ephemeral entourage of new media artists, writers and MFA candidates. In drug-induced states, he browses Whole Foods supermarkets, hip cafes, libraries and parks, all the while updating his Twitter feed, obsessively reading Facebook histories, scouring Tumbler, listing through Wikipedia and checking and re-checking Gmail. 

The life is not all it's cracked up to be. Paul dips and dives through the highs and lows of drug use. Relationships are fraught with unspoken tension and anxiety. And as he journeys to the capital of his native Taiwan, Taipei, his relationships are tested while ingesting lots of drugs and making films on his MacBook.

Despite the glamor of art and fads, true happiness continually eludes Paul. The rootless and transient lifestyle portrayed here echoes Hemingway's own examination of post-war expatriates in 'The Sun Also Rises.' And with each choice Paul makes, anxiety grips him more. 

If anything hinders 'Taipei,' it is a lack of sympathetic characters. Paul engages in self-destructive behavior. But the discontentedness and anxiety underlying his actions finds resonance with the reader. Living in an internet obsessed culture, Facebook chats often replace direct communication with others. And the prevalence of drug use mirrors the alienating and mediating force of the web life.

Tao Lin's style is phenomenal. To mirror Paul's uncertainty about people, events and memory, Lin effectively uses adverbs and other modifiers to an extent to create uncertainty for the reader, mimicking a drug-addled haze.

His honest, documentary style reveals the social anxiety and role of internet media in our age without passing judgment or casting derision. Still coming into his own as a writer, Tao Lin will find himself at home among the contemporary scene. 'Taipei' is a must read for any fan of contemporary literature, or who feels the unsettling of today's age.


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