Shoplifting from American Apparel

by Web Intern

By Tao Lin
Melville House Publishing

Tao Lin is notorious for being a writer who enjoys a good gimmick. He has delighted in making his fans uncomfortable at book readings by repeating the same word or phrase over and over for six minutes, and for storming Brooklyn with viral marketing campaigns such as plastering any found surface with stickers that simply read, ‘Britney Spears.’ However, the fact that he chose to title his fifth published novel, Shoplifting From American Apparel isn’t just another gimmick (although it certainly won’t hurt sales) because he actually was arrested for stealing from the store. In fact, if the book is truthful, he was arrested for stealing a shirt to wear to one of his own book readings.

Lin writes in a very nonplussed conversational tone about topics that most people reading this review can relate to: not wanting to have a real job, being sucky at relationships, going places and then wanting to immediately go home, and Gmail chatting. The main character of the novel is a young man named Sam who is addicted to iced coffee, and values his online friendships more than his IRL friendships.

The joy in Lin’s writing is that it is often funny without putting forth any effort to actually be funny. The action (or often lack thereof) taking place in Shoplifting is so everyday slice of life for anyone who can use ‘Beacon’s Closet’ in a sentence, that it produces a sensation in the reader that is not unlike spending an afternoon catching up on your Tumblr dashboard. One favorite example is the following, which takes places at a concert on a college campus:

‘He text messaged Sharon that he would not be going to dinner. He walked around and didn’t see Audrey. There were many college students in the building. About twenty minutes later Sam saw Audrey walking out of the concert hall. They walked into the concert hall and sat against the back wall for about an hour. Audrey said one time she found a half-eaten watermelon inside a giant bush.’

There is literally no action taking place there, but it is still interesting to read because 1) what isn’t funny about watermelon being found in a giant bush? 2) reading it probably reminds you of yourself and that ‘one wild time’ you had at ‘that one wild party’ last week. And as Lin knows very well, the demographic he is marketing to enjoys nothing better than a good tale about, well … themselves.

-By Kelly McClure

photo courtesy Melville House Publishing 

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