Shoplifting From American Apparel

Cult fave Tao Lin's autobiographical novella is centered around a young Brooklynite with girl and law troubles

New in Print

Shoplifting From American Apparel

by Tao Lin
Melville House, 112 pp., $13 (paper)

Tao Lin is viewed as both the pied piper, leading the way to literature's afterlife following the death of print media, and as a hack. His websites sell everything from "fuck america" stickers to shares of his next novel, subverting the major publishing house system. The amount of content on his blog is exhausting – a word often invoked to describe Lin's writing style.

Lin's latest – a novella centered around a young Brooklynite with girl and law troubles – is no exception, using little more than short declarative sentences and dialogue to tell its tale. Like a thousand Twitter updates strung together. Here's the totality of the titular action: "A few minutes later Sam walked out of American Apparel holding an American Apparel shirt." The characters reek of the much maligned "me generation," with conversations ranging in topic from how much things suck to awkward relationships. Take the magic out of the magical realism of Lin's most recent novel, Eeeee Eee Eeee, and you're left with this story that reads like a compelling instruction booklet for being a Brooklyn art slacker.

But a hack Lin is not. Shoplifting is scathingly funny for being so spare: "Sam ate cereal with soymilk. He put things on eBay then tried to guess the password to Sheila's email account, not thinking he would be successful, and not being successful. He did fifty jumping jacks." Amidst the barrage of tedious details and everyday occurrences, there are moments of beauty that one can miss without the expected flourish of adjectives to put blinking arrows around them that say "important moment ahead." And what's more realistic than overlooked beauty in our technological age?

Lin's repetitive sentence structure becomes blurring, making what is thought, said (often on Google chat), and done bleed together. If you don't follow conversations closely enough, it's easy to gloss over a sentence's lack of quotation marks and what that thought-but-unsaid line might say about the characters.

Works like Shoplifting From American Apparel just might be the future of literature, with a style that's wary of words' ability to say more than intended. Best to keep it simple, leaving a 100-page slice of life cut with a very sharp and discerning blade – one that Lin wields well.

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