Is Tao Lin the Hemingway of Gmail chat?

Sunday September 26, 2010 05:46 pm EDT

Image In Tao Lin’s new novel, Richard Yates, a 22-year-old author named Haley Joel Osment reads a biography of Ernest Hemingway on the way to meet his 16-year-old girlfriend, Dakota Fanning, at a train station. Mountains are nearby. A few pages later, Haley writes in an email to Dakota, “Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Happy. Good.”
In Hemingway’s “Hills Like White Elephants,” an American man and a girl sit down at a train station and have a terse conversation about an “operation” that largely culminates when the girl says, “Would you please please please please please please please stop talking?” As the title indicates, there are a few hills nearby.
The story is probably the most commonly anthologized of Hemingway’s and the clearest example of what he meant by saying, “If a writer knows enough about what he is writing about, he may omit things that he knows. The dignity of movement of an iceberg is due to only one ninth of it being above water.” The affect in “Hills Like White Elephants” is largely drawn from the fact that the operation is never directly explained. That omission allows for it to grow larger for the reader, for the story to become ominous and emotional in a way that directly saying “abortion,” for example, would undercut.
Tao Lin achieves something similar to the power of that Hemingway story in Richard Yates, directing the reader’s attention at the surface level minutia of Gmail chat conversations and shoplifted vegan food while an ominous relationship of manipulation and deceit turns tense beneath the surface of the story’s water.
Lin certainly isn’t unique in his use of omission. Bret Easton Ellis and Lydia Davis (both referenced and occasionally imitated in Richard Yates) have appropriated the technique into their own work and you’d be hard pressed to find any contemporary author whose work isn’t aware of it to some degree. Richard Yates, though, is unique in this wholesale appropriation of the idea in every last word of Lin’s style.

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