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Richard Yates: A Novel Paperback – September 7, 2010

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Editorial Reviews Review

Guest Reviewer: Bill Clegg

Bill Clegg, the author of Portrait of an Addict as a Young Man reviews Tao Lin’s new novel, Richard Yates.

Tao Lin’s second novel is called Richard Yates. The two main characters are named Dakota Fanning and Haley Joel Osment. Dakota Fanning. Haley Joel Osment. Richard Yates. Three names. To varying degrees and depending on when and in which circles they get mentioned, famous names. Richard Yates was a writer who achieved some fame, was basically forgotten and then, after his death, became appreciated again. Tao Lin used to use his own name and other not famous names for his protagonists and now he doesn’t. Or at least in this novel he didn’t. Haley Joel Osment is a more famous name than Tao Lin. There is much to suggest – in this book and most everywhere – that fame is a wanted thing. To be seen. To be recognized. To be witnessed. To be special. And now, because of the many portals available to access that status, being seen/witnessed/famous/special is achievable, to varying degrees, for everyone. Haley and Dakota meet through one of those portals online. They talk and text like most everyone. Like this. Like that. He said. She said. You get the idea. And so, the story: He’s 22. She’s 16. They text. They chat. They talk. Eventually, they meet. She binges, barfs, steals stuff, lies. He catches her. He tells her he cares. She promises to stop all the stuff he catches her doing. He reads a novel by Richard Yates. Doubt ensues. A gulf widens. Their future together looks less likely. A formal feeling follows. Everyone ends up a little sadder than before.

There’s a poem by Daniel Halpern called White Field that was written long before the internet happened. I kept thinking about it when I read Richard Yates. It’s about the end of a relationship, starting fresh and looking back at that time and that thing that is now over. That time and that thing are depicted as footprints in snow, filling with new snow, soon to disappear. There’s a line in the poem, near the middle, that reads, All day long you tell yourself how you feel. In Richard Yate, Haley and Dakota tell themselves how they feel. All day long. All night long. In chat rooms, in e-mails, in texts, on the phone. They hear each other for a little while and then hear themselves more. And so the novel, with its famous name characters and its once famous, now famous again name title, wants to be seen and paid attention to; and if you happen to look, you’ll see that it’s saying– shrewdly, brilliantly, in the numb meticulousness of a generation that posts photographs on-line of half-sucked cough drops, about-to-be-eaten meals, and pillows they are about to lay their heads on – that you do, too.

From Publishers Weekly

This slick yet affecting novel depicts the manically self-absorbed days and nights of "Dakota Fanning" and "Haley Joel Osment." That the two share names with famous child stars, and that the title references a celebrated novelist, indicates our specific moment in time, but otherwise this is not a book "about" either the actors or the author. Born in 1983, Lin (Shoplifting from American Apparel) portrays a generation unable to engage and left lost, lonely, and dangerously obsessive as a result. Gmail chat and text message appear in heavy rotation, as the young lovers become more and more incapable of anything beyond their melancholic fixation with each other. The prose is rhythmic and lean, but strangely captivating, ultimately serving to echo the lack of interest the characters seem to have in anything other than themselves. Following them proves disconcerting and exhausting, especially as nothing keeps happening. Lin's sensibility is hip and ironic, but also feels ominously clairvoyant. As the author himself has become something of an icon to the very generation he portrays, one gets the sense that the disaffected youth are in on something the rest of us can only read about; given how bleak that world appears, reading about it feels relentless enough.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 208 pages
  • Publisher: Melville House; First Edition edition (September 7, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1935554158
  • ISBN-13: 978-1935554158
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.6 x 7.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 6.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (34 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #816,076 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Tao Lin (b. 1983) is the author of three novels--Taipei (2013), Richard Yates (2010), and Eeeee Eee Eeee (2007)--a novella, Shoplifting from American Apparel (2009), a story collection, Bed (2007), and two poetry collections: cognitive-behavioral therapy (2008), you are a little bit happier than i am (2006). His writing has been published by Granta, New York Times, New York Times Book Review, New York Observer, Poetry Foundation, Vice, Noon, Mississippi Review, and other venues. He edits Muumuu House, a literary publisher, and has taught a class called The Contemporary Short Story in Sarah Lawrence College's MFA program. (Photo by Noah Kalina.)

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

14 of 17 people found the following review helpful By Shannon on July 27, 2011
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I agree with the other reviewers that say this novel is high on style but low on substance, that it's affected. I like that it's slow-burning and constantly shifting, and the way my brain gets into a new grove of reading/hearing/seeing facts and short statements, so that my perception of the world is changed for a bit when I stop reading and go to make dinner, or whatever. Never mind its main characters are sort of terrible -- and not in a compelling way, just in a, oh, come on, sort of way.

But when I allowed my suspension of disbelief to snap, when I stopped trusting the author, it all came crumbling down, and I couldn't read more than a few sentences without rolling my eyes. It felt like listening to the kid in your freshman dorm who seemed so wise and fascinating, and then meeting him again three years later and thinking he's just full of it. The type who wears lamé American Apparel leggings and an artfully holey American Apparel tank top at 3 pm on a Wednesday in the Lower East Side. Just, no thanks.

To get a feel for the style of the writing, check out some of the other reviews here, especially the top ones. They're written in the same way as the book. Short sentences with simple structures that say facts. One after another. Maybe repeating words from the previous one, to really dig deep. Seems fresh at the beginning, and I liked doing the extra work that this style masterfully encourages, but after a while, it just grated on me.

Worth picking up to see what all the fuss is about, and I can't wait to see what Tao Lin does when his less-than-subtle style matures a bit. But for now, this isn't my favorite book. Even though I'm 25 and live in Brooklyn.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful By a.dolan on October 11, 2011
Format: Paperback
I read 'Richard Yates' on a work night in the beginning of the week alone in my room. I had heard that 'Richard Yates' was a true account by the author, which was primarily my motivation to read it. I had only ever read 'Shoplifting' prior to reading 'Richard Yates.'

The content made me feel, at first, shame and resentment for my own teenage mistakes. I also felt uneasy and inadequate that I didn't find it as humorous as other people did. So, at first, I felt negatively towards `Richard Yates,' as it made me feel poorly.
I didn't want my initial reaction and past experiences to shape my opinion of the book. After a week's worth of thought, I realized that I had received exactly what I wanted from `Richard Yates;' a literal retelling of events from a narrator unmotivated and unconcerned with my or anyone else's opinion of them. Behind the seemingly fake method of building a familiar brand is a product that is unusually authentic. It is likeable at times and unlikable other times. The book satisfied my curiosity about the author's life. This thought made me feel calm about the book. Things that I perceive to be authentic make me feel good about society and culture. I feel good. Thank you for `Richard Yates.'
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful By ikirkwood62 on April 23, 2012
Format: Paperback
I've always been suspicious about novels that cater to a certain audience, even if only a little bit. I have read certain authors that avoid this so much they go so far as to not include real-life products in their stories, in order to make their book "timeless". While that's extreme, going so far as to create a story that only really applies to modern teenagers is extreme in the opposite way.

Richard Yates by Tao Lin is about Haley Joel Osment and Dakota Fanning (not the real ones), an older hipster-type guy and a young teenage girl with some self esteem issues. They meet on the internet and start a relationship. This causes many problems in both of their lives.

The best thing about this novel is also the worst thing: it perfectly captures the current generation (my own).

But when I say that, I don't mean it like The Great Gatsby perfectly capturing the Roaring 20's. Because when Gatsby did it, it took the corrupted morals and ideas of a party-oriented society and used it as a springboard to discuss the morals and ideas of everyone, everywhere, at anytime.

Richard Yates does a really good job in creating two characters who represent the Millenials. They are self-centered, loathing, and outsider-type individuals. They fit the "hipster" bill perfectly, eating only organic and steamed lentils and raw diets and vegetarianism. But underneath the callous exterior lies uncertainty. There is a certain poetry about today's generation that is misunderstood by everyone else. Except Lin. He manages to capture it without a misstep.

But if you're an older person reading this, you might roll your eyes and shrug off my description of my generation.
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15 of 21 people found the following review helpful By Leigh Alexander on September 8, 2010
Format: Paperback
Most refer to Lin's taut, blank prose as an 'in-joke' that they feel excludes them. Rather, 'Richard Yates' is the author's finest demonstration yet of a rare and profound courage: that which it takes to describe the most heart-wrenching and least-explored facets of the human condition with simple direction, and without the safety net of embellishment.

It's a demonstration of understanding that such things need no embellishment; that the voids, absences and repellently-common weaknesses within everyday individuals are as meaningful when explored plainly as the most vaunted and decorous conflicts in far more elaborate literature.

Yes, Lin writes primarily from and for a generation accustomed to communicating in literal, digitally-enabled prose lines. Yet in applying such a cultural norm to his own work, he illuminates without any special effort the unique and nakedly-honest troughs in the hearts of the millennial young.

Further, with the sort of efficacy that must only come from deeply personal observation, Lin applies himself to far more complex monsters, such as casual kleptomania or unexamined impulse behavior. Most prominently, his fashion of prose bluntly unveils the germination of a severe eating disorder in a teenage girl, in what may be the most faithful and effective rendition of such a condition in literature to date.

At the same time, there is nothing insular about 'Richard Yates'. While being a missive from and for a generation whose two worst fears are to be alone and to be mundane, in that order, there is a timelessness about the relationship portrayed in the book -- a tragedy of two who seek completion and approval from one another so greatly it devours and starves their ability to love one another.
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