Eat When You Feel Sad
Robert doesn’t do much. Here’s a typical scene: “Robert is on a bridge. He turns on the radio. He turns off the radio. Robert is in a city. Robert is driving slowly. He parks his car. Robert gets out of his car. He takes his cell phone out of his pocket. He calls Jim. Robert says, ‘Hey man, I’m outside.’ Robert looks at the sky. The sky is gray.”
And when we say it’s “typical,” we mean it’s replicated, in front of various set pieces, for 115 pages. Robert goes to school, has sex, and yes, eats when he feels sad. German, definitively a Tao Lin acolyte—the author blurbs German’s book and lives in the same apartment—shares Lin’s deadpan style. Monotony isn’t without merit or meaning, even if it’s just to say being twentysomething is a patchwork of meaninglessness. Somewhere on this flat plane an emotional peak or valley or two appear, it’s not that they’re unrecognizable— Robert’s malaise can’t exist in a vacuum—but German has painted himself into a corner with his style to such a degree that nothing can be observed. The style dictates that only the surface—even in the character’s thoughts—can be noted.
Maybe it’s unfair to take German to task for this: It’s clearly an artistic choice, and one meant to ape the flatlined hipster life. But readers of fiction turn to the form for a peek beneath the surface, and it’s not enough for a writer to proclaim he’s as blind to it as we are.