< new books
I picked up a copy of Barthelme's Sixty Stories and Shoplifting from American Apparel by Tao Lin, both of which are books I've before seen in my local store, but haven't picked up out of some sort of misapplied frugality. I let this new copy of Sixty Stories (I have seen a copy here at Powell's, in DC at Capitol Hill Books, and at The Book House in Minneapolis) sit for a week before considering buying it. I have hardened my threshold to buy books; I have taken control of my life—the edition is one of the quiet, smart Penguin ones; they've slapped some sort of abstract expressionist art on the front. Maybe it is not abstract expressionist. It is always either that or a surrealist painting though, that they choose, because people cannot equate Barthelme with anything else. He must be weird. He must be atomized. The Lin novella is packaged as according to the book series it's in—a white slick cover and blocky, modern capitals. The spine is blue: Melville House. The blurb on the back says "the inmate with a mop held back the inmate without a mop," which is quoting from a scene where Lin implies the mop to be a symbol of power, undercut by the symbol's impotence, it being the instrument by which the mopped inmate carries out the separate will of the warden. I would have preferred a blurb about the young asian man who takes cheese sandwiches out of the garbage in the prison cell—who compels the other inmates to give him their sandwiches, out of pity and real concern. He shows up later in the story; there is a question of whether he is crazy or not. He feels like a projected future. Reading this novella made me sad. It reminded me of high school, reading Richard Yates (the author, not the book, also by Lin), and a friend who linked me to hikikomori (a web project by Lin and Ellen Kennedy; it is fun and sad all at once). All the books say that Lin immediately spawned imitators, but I think most of those voices were already there. He has a commitment to food and effectively hugging all the lit he reads. It is inspiring but also his life is this big void that no one really wants. Somehow he has killed all the macho tics of Ben Lerner while also writing about NY lit drama. Though, the amount of women he (Lin, through alter-ego in this and other stuff he does) seems unable to love, while also leading around and kissing, is matched in intensity only by how much Daniel Clowes, Adrian Tomine, and Charles Burns et al. can't seem to avoid writing stories about older men denying the temptation of teenagers with daddy issues and SAT vocabs. Pick up any book by them. Last night I read a random Barthelme short story from Sixty Stories, and it was about a father who is alive and not, present and not, good and not. Barthelme wrote a whole book called The Dead Father, about a group of peasants who drag a huge stone father through the countryside. It is almost impossible to read.