My Thoughts on Tao Lin's, Shoplifting from American Apparel: A Review

Title: Shoplifting From American Apparel
Author: Tao Lin
Publisher: Melville House
Date: 2009
Genre: Literary Fiction, Novella

103 pages.
Where I got it: Bought at The Strand in New York
Challenges: None

I find this book very attractive.  Seriously.  I have a weird book crush on these Melville House editions of novellas (they have both a classics series and a contemporary series).

Other than that, I'm not entirely sure what to say about Shoplifting From American Apparel, so I will attempt to tell you what it is about.  Sam is a writer.  He lives in Brooklyn.  He has a friend.  His name is Luis.  They like to talk about nothing on gmail chat.  Sam steals things that he doesn't need.  He goes to jail.  He goes to Atlantic City and doesn't eat steak.  I won't ruin the end.

I am oh so cleverly doing a real hack job of imitating Lin's style, which I would describe as "postmodern stream of consciousness" (which I intend to copyright).  It has a Palahniuk vibe, without the grotesque.  Lin is a master at revealing how uninteresting most communication actually is, and in that way, is a brilliant realist.  But, I didn't particularly like it.

My husband asked me what I thought of the book, and like I am now, I was kind of at a loss, so I just started reading him passages from random pages.  What I learned from that exercise was that Lin is funny, out of context.  He interactions are kind of hilarious collections of comic non sequiturs that reveal how inept and meaningless communication can be.  I'm not sure that is proposing that this is new, but maybe.  Here is an example:

"Has Marissa ever threatened to kill you," said Sam.
"Oscar Wilde said that genius is a spectator to their own life, to the point that the real genius is uninteresting," said Luis. "No, Marissa has never threatened to kill me."
"Oscar Wilde was stupid though," said Sam.
"Yeah, you're right," said Luis. "My chest is going to explode."
"My face is going to float away from my skull," said Sam.  "To emo music."

There is a plot, although I wouldn't say it was the point.  The characters are quirky, without being particularly unique or developed.  The ending is kind of beautiful.  I suppose I did have quite a bit to say, but really no summation for the review.  I think that if you read the dialogue above, you might get a pretty good idea whether Lin's style is for you.  In the end, I left the book intrigued, and I would probably try it again.  


  1. I've never read Tao Lin because he seems, I don't know, so cutesy or hipstery. Even though the lives he writes about sound kind of like my friends' lives and like what my life will be in a year or so (see: wasting all day on gchat), I don't think I could bear reading this. I'm glad you quoted from him, that's the first time I've actually READ him rather than ABOUT him - and really, does anyone actually speak like his characters speak?

    -- ellen

  2. He is definitely hipster-y. There are moments of inanity that do read as realistic to me, and others that are definitely hyperbole.

  3. I love minimalist book covers too. I think simple designs can be just as iconic (if not more so) than overdesigned covers.

    I've read Lin's "Richard Yates" and "Eeeee Eee Eeee", but haven't made it to SFAA yet. I really like his writing style, though I can see how others could be turned off by it.

  4. Jessica- Thanks for stopping by. I didn't mind the style. Like I said, I think I would read another of his books.


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