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.

More Tao Lin
Was It Good for You?
Lin and the Tramp
The year in books

James Renovitch, Jan. 1, 2010

More Book Reviews
Nonfiction and Memoir
Nonfiction and Memoir
Justin St. Germain, Stephen Harrigan, and more delight with these true tomes

Oct. 25, 2013

Fiction Favorites
Fiction Favorites
From postapocalyptic islands to mining camps in Nevada, these novels will rock your world

Oct. 25, 2013

More by James Renovitch
Bedside Manner: Making and Experiencing Video Games
Bedside Manner: Making and Experiencing Video Games
Boss Fight Books gives the medium the biography treatment

June 16, 2016

Local Tech You Didn’t Know You Needed
Local Tech You Didn’t Know You Needed
Globotix and Party Time! Hexcellent! make stuff no one else is making

May 11, 2016


Tao Lin, Shoplifting From American Apparel, Melville House, Eeeee Eee Eeee

AC Daily, Events and Promotions, Luvdoc Answers

Breaking news, recommended events, and more

Official Chronicle events, promotions, and giveaways

All questions answered (satisfaction not guaranteed)