Title: Richard Yates
Author: Tao Lin
Publisher: Melville House
Buy The Book: Amazon
Release Date: September 7th, 2010
Richard Yates is named after real-life writer Richard Yates, but it has nothing to do with him. Instead, it tracks the rise and fall of an illicit affair between a very young writer and his even younger-in fact, underaged-lover. As he seeks to balance work and love, she becomes more and more self-destructive in a play for his undivided attention.His guilt and anger builds in response until they find themselves hurtling out of control and afraid to let go. (Summary provided by Melville House.)
There have been times when I have hated something that it seemed everyone in my world loved. One of those times was in my grad school Film Theory class. I enjoyed/found some artistic value in every movie we watched (Crash, The Driver’s Seat, etc) until we got to the film Breaking The Waves. I hated it. I even thought the ending was kind of funny. I voiced my opinion in the class and the teacher made some big deal about how when the bells rang at the end of the movie a miracle happened. Now I find myself in the opposite situation: I enjoy Richard Yates by Tao Lin. A book that many people in my little world dislike. Oh joy…
I received a copy of Richard Yates by Tao Lin early because I am awesome a member of The Rumpus Book Club. To say Richard Yates has proven for interesting and lively discussion among the club members is putting it mildly. Richard Yates is an odd novel with an odd title and even odder character names. Oddly enough, it works…for me anyway.
Much of the criticism regarding this book surrounds Lin’s minimalist style and his “unlikeable protagonist.” As far as minimalism is concerned, I enjoy it. I understand why others wouldn’t. However, I think it’s silly to criticize a book based on a writing style that one is predestined to dislike. I don’t enjoy action films, so I avoid watching them. I don’t go on rottentomatoes.com and write reviews that say things like Predator would be really great if it weren’t so violent. It’s an action movie. It’s supposed to be violent. So that’s how I feel about critiques of Richard Yates that cite not enjoying it because it is written in the minimalist style.
There has also been much criticism of the book based on the main character, Haley Joel Osment* not being a likable protagonist. Throughout the book HJO engages in some pretty horrible behavior toward his girlfriend Dakota Fanning. This turned off many readers, and I find that completely understandable. I found HJO’s behavior throughout disturbing, but I feel he is an ultimately sympathetic character. Early on in the book Dakota Fanning describes him as an “autistic vegan.” I took this as a cue along with many others throughout the book that HJO is socially inept and not completely responsible for the way he treats Dakota Fanning. Perhaps, I formed this opinion because I have a younger brother who is severely autistic and my heart tends to swell a little when it is inferred that a character is autistic. Yep, that’s a bit of personal bias on my part. Guilty. There was also much criticism of HJO because he is said to be somewhat of a reflection of Tao Lin. This made it hard for some readers to separate the fictional deeds of HJO from the author. I didn’t find the autobiographical elements bothersome.
So why do I like Richard Yates? I like it because of its divisive nature. I enjoy literature that is meant to evoke extreme emotion (i.e. disgust, sorrow, joy, etc). I think it takes considerable talent to use minimalism to bring forth such emotion. I like Richard Yates because at times it is hilarious. In the midst of all of HJO’s “misdeeds” there are comedic bits like this:
Headbutt girl was the 26-year-old Haley Joel Osment spent time with before meeting Dakota Fanning. He headbutted her by accident one night when they were standing in her apartment listening to Rancid in the dark. (p.76)
Tao Lin has been called the voice of his generation. Many young people beg to differ. Age and generation aside, I prefer to think of him as the voice of the disenchanted cynic of the Internet Golden Age. But I’m just a suburban housewife. Who cares what I think really?**
*Yeah, he named his main characters Haley Joel Osment and Dakota Fanning.
**There’s a lot more I could say about why I enjoyed this book, but quite frankly I am tired of thinking about it.