I want to write a review of Eeeee Eee Eeee, the debut novel by Tao Lin published in 2007, but it is impossible. Here, I will try anyways. It is about Andrew, who works at Domino's in Florida, who has returned home after running out of money after going to school in New York. His parents have moved to Germany and he lives with their two aging dogs in a big house. He hangs out with his friend Steve from high school and they drive around and talk about how depressed they are and sometimes scream "shit" out of the window. Steve has a younger sister named Ellen, who is in high school, and for a few random chapters about 2/3 of the way through Eeeee Eee Eeee, it becomes her story. She is probably more depressed than Andrew or Steve.
Both her and Andrew communicate with animals that live in an underground world accessible by a trap door. A bear, a dolphin (the source of the title), a moose, and a hamster become their friends, enter and exit randomly. There are also cameos by Elijah Wood and Salman Rushdie and Sean Penn's corpse, which upset me personally. There is also a lot of talk about Jhumpa Lahiri and her Pulitzer.
The last chapter of Eeeee Eee Eeee is arguably the best part. It is very long and there is a mention of a free concert featuring Yo La Tengo in Battery Park that I think I went to. Everything reaches a synthesis at that point, despite how random and arbitrary the majority of the action of the preceding 150 pages may be. At the beginning Andrew is constantly thinking about Sara and for the second half there is barely a mention of her. Something is happening in this novel that I don't understand.
Here is an appropriate passage to highlight:
"'Maybe we should wait until after Thanksgiving for the dog. Thanksgiving is so soon! Aren't you excited?'
'I hate all holdays.' Thanksgiving--the gorging and genocide of it; how could it be a holiday? were they serious?--made Ellen feel at once nauseous, sarcastic, seditious, and starving. Her mouth watered. But she also wanted to vomit on the white man's face then smash something--a house, an entire mansion--with her forehead and have it be suicide at the same time." (150)
The closing image of the book is quite moving. This book is practically impossible to describe. There is not much of a plot. There does not need to be a plot. To read Eeeee Eee Eeee is to be reminded that there are no rules to literature.
A lot of things happen in the book and nothing really happens. I want to go on a killing spree. I won't because I believe in non-violence. Speaking as a depressed person, Eeeee Eee Eeee may offer some solace. Everything is meaningless. If I had a class I would bring a tent in and go inside. But I don't so I am sleeping in a tent tonight in my basement because I have been displaced from my room due to Thanksgiving family visitors. These kind of facts feel okay to include in a review of this book for some reason. Have you ever heard a theory that proclaims that whatever book you are reading at the moment mirrors your present life in some way? That is the way I felt reading Eeeee Eee Eeee.
Here I must lapse into an autobiographical charade: I would like to approach Eeeee Eee Eeee as if I were in the same creative writing class at Tao Lin at NYU. I could not get through this review without mentioning that we are the same age and graduated the same year from the same school. Further stalking provides the information that he graduated from CAS in Journalism and I graduated from Gallatin in Writing and Politics. That said we never had a creative writing class together, and had we, I would have included him on the short list of best student writers I had read while in attendance at that institution, alongside, oh, Paul Rome, Adam White (technically from Dartmouth), Xenia Viray, and Jordana Rothman--and it bears mentioning that they all came from the same single class out of the eight or so I took. Finally, were Tao to be there, yes, he would be amongst the best I had read, but were he to show random chapters from this first novel, I would respond to them randomly. If he showed the last chapter, I would proclaim it a work of genius. If he showed one of the random short middle chapters, I would consider it quirky and nearly pointless. This is the easiest way for me to judge this book. I would feel weird slamming it and calling it a piece of crap and I would feel weird proclaiming it a would-be finalist for the National Book Award. It's somewhere in the middle, but definitely tipping the scale towards the more positive end. After reading the better parts of Eeeee Eee Eeee, I am relatively sure that Lin's forthcoming works, Shoplifting at American Apparel and Richard Yates will show progress and maturity and may put him on the track to be one of the greatest American novelists one day, since he has such a great headstart on everyone.
I am happy that Tao Lin was able to publish this book at age 23 or 24. It restores my faith in the publishing industry. He deserves to find an audience at least the size of David Baldacci, or Chuck Klosterman. If his prose style becomes more "mainstream" and if the marketing efforts of today's publishing companies quit being so damn pathetic, it may be within the realm of possibility. Though this book is extremely idiosyncratic, there is a generosity of spirit about it that few other writers would include so haphazardly, summed up in this passage:
"In the computer room Andrew stares at the table of contents of his story collection. His story-collection. Rejected by over thirty editors. Rejection is good. Putting others ahead of self, giving things away. Success, money, power, fame, happiness, friends; any kind of pleasure--giving it all away, in the pyramid scheme of life, with the knowledge that everything will be returned, and being satisfied with that knowledge; not with the actual return of things, but the idea of the return of things. There is death. Martial arts, deer, death. Singapore, octopus, death. In each story the main character is depressed and lonely. Every story is twenty-pages and about pointlessness. He opens one of the stories. If he writes good and funny enough, Sara will materialize in the swimming pool. He stares at the story. Delete it. He needs coffee. He already had coffee. Move the story casually to the recycling bin. Empty the recycling bin with cunning and speed. Start a band. You win, you lose. It's the same old news. Write a story about Steve. Killing rampage in a casino, with lead pipes." (75-76)
If I had to ask Tao Lin one question about the book, it would be about the meaning of the animals. Are they hallucinations? I think they are real. They probably don't mean anything. They don't make the story less believable because the parts without the animals are pretty realistic. I would also ask him if the girl wearing the t-shirt that said "Mineral" on it was a reference to the band, as Jawbreaker, the Flaming Lips and the Shins are all clearly referenced, because I make a reference to that same short-lived but much-loved emo band in my second novel. That would make me happy. Because this is finally the opinion I come to about Eeeee Eee Eeee--that if there is one "emo" novel--this is it. As a freshman at NYU I was into more of those kinds of bands than I would like to admit to from this juncture seven years later. But that attitude which appealed to me--of being depressed, maybe being a "cutter," of wearing weird clothes and buttons and going to shows like cultural events--is certainly prevalent in some of the characters in this work. The culture of 2001, and everything that came with it, has certainly affected all of us 25-year-olds in divergent but oddly similar ways. This book is emo, even if what people call emo today totally sucks and is lame. Tao Lin should open up for a Rainer Maria or Texas is the Reason reunion tour and read. That would be cool.