Book ReviewMay 14, 2007 at 1:18 pm | Posted in books | 14 Comments
Tao Lin‘s Eeeee-Eee-Eeee may be considered a 21st century follow-up to Albert Camus’s L’Étranger — only instead of an Arab being shot to death by a confused and amoral colonialist, Elijah Wood is clubbed to death by a dolphin.
If you’re the kind of person who read that last sentence and immediately wondered how an aquatic mammal with flippers could club a human to death, then this is probably not the book for you. Eeeee-Eee-Eeee is Tao Lin’s world, and you’re going to have to learn to go with the flow — talking dolphins, teleporting bears, nervous hamsters and all.
Of course, there are human beings in Lin’s world, and not just celebrities. Unlike the animals, however, the human characters find themselves incapable of acting, despite a universal longing to engage with the world around them. Andrew, a morose and underachieving pizza-delivery boy/writer, fantasizes constantly about going on killing rampages but finds he lacks the energy and stamina for murder. Mark hopes to find authentic experience in pop culture, but is regularly frustrated by Andrew’s sarcastic jibes. Ellie seeks purpose in political activism, but is stymied by philosophical contradictions. Ultimately, all the characters are so overtaken by anomie and ennui that they can’t even conjure up more than the mildest bemusement at the talking menagerie around them.
Which brings us back to those dolphins. It’s not clear to me whether Lin is portraying an alternate reality in which hyper-intelligent animals have always coexisted with humanity, but I prefer to think that the animals are a new feature, and are acting as harbingers of some great societal cataclysm. The biggest hint of this is a conversation between Andrew and a hamster, during which the hamster seems to be trying to convey a warning of some sort. Unfortunately, the hamster isn’t very bright, and keeps forgetting what he wants to say. Eventually, he’s attacked by an owl, and Andrew is left as befuddled — and unconcerned — as ever.
And so it goes in Tao Lin’s world — everyone is so deadened by the banality of existence that even the truly absurd fails to make an impression. Even more tellingly, the bears and dolphins are almost as depressed and disillusioned as the humans. In fact, the only characters who seem to have found any pleasure or meaning from their existence are the celebrities — Jhumpa Lahiri on her diamond yacht, Salman Rushdie feeling proud and famous, Elijah Wood and his (apparently unreturned) respect for dolphins.
Maybe Lin’s point is that pop celebrity is the only truly authentic experience available to us in a postmodern world. In which case, I hope Elijah Wood hears about this book, and how in it he was murdered by a dolphin, and I hope it makes him so mad that he sues Tao Lin. And I hope Tao Lin manages to milk the controversy for all it’s worth, until he attains the kind of celebrity status that may one day redeem us all.
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