Tao Lin – Richard Yates is a cheese beast

by Kelly McClure

People like to gang up on Brooklyn based writer Tao Lin and I’m not sure why. The comment sections following online reviews of his books are often as entertaining as the books themselves. As I’m writing this review, I almost can’t wait to check in a bit later to read the comments (if any) left here, and defend this writer who I find to be, if at all annoying, annoyingly honest.

Lin’s 6th book and 2nd novel, Richard Yates (Melville House), gave me palpitations while reading it because it pretty accurately describes what a “normal” relationship is like for people these days. The main characters in the book are Haley Joel Osment, a writer in his 20s who lives in NYC, and Dakota Fanning, a girl in her late teens who’s still living with her mom in Jersey. You may be asking yourself why these characters are named after random celebrities, and the answer is “just because.” The beginning of the characters’ relationship unfolds on Gmail chat, via text message, and on the phone, and progresses to alternating bus/train trips from NYC to Jersey and back where the couple spends time together having smoothies, touching each other’s privates, and calling fat people “cheese beasts.” Once the honeymoon is over, the couple falls in to a very familiar pattern of questioning each other (why didn’t she make me that hand stitched hamster doll like she said she would?) Questioning themselves (If I finish this plate of pasta, he’ll think I’m fat and not like me.) And questioning why they’re in the relationship at all. A great deal of the characters’ inner thoughts are devoted to wondering if it’s okay to want to change the other person as much as they do, and if it’s normal to agree to change themselves solely because the person who’s currently touching their privates asks them to. While reading all of this, it’s easy to think something along the lines of, “why am I reading this? I feel very uncomfortable right now.” But you see, the reason you will probably feel stressed out and uncomfortable while reading Richard Yates is because it lays out scenarios that are similar to your own life. The other day I got in a argument via Gmail with the person I’m dating because she suggested that I bring my own coffee creamer to her house when I come to visit her for a week next month. A few years ago I dumped someone I was dating because, while spending the day at the Indiana Dunes, she kept developing weird spit strings in her mouth when she talked. I remember looking at her and thinking, “what does dating a girl who gets spit strings say about me as a person?” And that, THAT, is what Richard Yates is all about, and that’s why you should read it. Because we’re ALL assholes. 

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