May 2007

Blake Butler

fiction

EEEEE EEE EEEE by Tao Lin

This novel is called EEEEE EEE EEEE, which is a sound dolphins make. If you’ve read Tao Lin before, via his poetry collection (you are a little bit happier than i am) last year from Action Books, or any of countless appearances both in print and online, you probably won’t be surprised to find that in this, his debut novel, dolphins, bears, hamsters and humans casually coexist. A bear destroys the narrator’s car. A bear is working on a novel. A bear accidentally crushes Sean Penn and covers his head with a blanket. Several other celebrities are beaten and/or ridiculed and/or die.  

The narrative of EEEEE EEE EEEE shifts so frequently and maintains such energy that it becomes difficult to stop. I began reading minutes after the book came to me in the mail. I continued reading while using the restroom and later when I went downstairs to exercise on a stationary bicycle. I held it in my hands and sweated and laughed aloud amongst the weight lifters at least three or four specific times during one scene where numerous animals have a philosophical discussion with the president. People in the gym kept looking at me. Often I was laughing because things were true. In EEEEE EEE EEEE, the president says, “Patriotism is the belief that not all human lives are worth the same." The president says, “Power is stupid.” The president’s cell phone’s ringtone is “coconut noises.” 

This kind of peculiar mixture of the absurd and philosophical makes every page capable of what I think of as "exploding." Not a very precise term, but by exploding I mean that on a sentence to sentence level there is this pervasion of potential energy. For a while there might be a discussion between two characters talking about feeling worthless/suicidal/bored/confused/depressed, but then the sentences leave the page and wander off and eat a sandwich and punch a wall and then come back. The word existential seems appropriate for the tone of much of the story, but much of the story also seems to defy any sort of –ism classification. Sometimes the novel is like a Woody Allen movie, if Woody Allen had watched more cartoons and stayed in his early 20s longer and been from Florida. At some point dolphins beat Elijah Wood to death. Elijah Wood is happy about the dolphins because he thinks he's in a movie. The novel-writing bear’s girlfriend bitches at him for being passive-aggressive about wanting a blowjob. At times it seems there’s so much going on but moment by moment the thoughts are parsed. You never feel abandoned by Tao’s fiction-logic. You feel perhaps like you’re watching a Luis Buñuel film with someone you like sitting beside you holding your hand with candy in their pocket. 

Beyond the multitude of bizarre there is a very human undertone to the ideas in EEEEE EEE EEEE. The characters here grapple with obsession, with feeling lonely, with being surrounded by the world. They talk to each other on instant messenger and scream "shit" out of the car window after intending to scream "fuck." The dolphins are afraid of hamsters. The employees of a Domino’s Pizza stand together in the dark without knowing why. Because most every line of Lin’s is quotable, here’s a random section I marked with a pen: “Andrew is afraid of his neighbors. The gate has a secret pass code. Sara has a secret pass code. She should. Andrew would stand there for years trying combinations. He wouldn’t keep track or develop a strategy but just continue trying different combinations and then Kafka would rise from the grave and write a novel about him. He feeds his dogs. There is more dog shit in the piano room. Leave it. Sell the house. Suitcase full of cash.” 

Later one day looking back at this review I’ll know I wrote it after reading the novel twice straight through because it’s hard to not want to write like Tao Lin but it’s even harder to actually do it. I know people who don’t read very often who should read this book because like Denis Johnson it’s funny and addictive and talks straight into your ear instead of from somewhere far gone. I know people who read constantly who should read this because Tao Lin’s sentences are so good they sometimes make me shudder. While doing so, or immediately after, or occasionally a long time after, they make me laugh. It’s very hard to make someone shudder and then laugh. Tao Lin persists. 

EEEEE EEE EEEE by Tao Lin
Melville House Press
ISBN: 1933633255
224 Pages