Whether you enjoy Taipei likely depends on how familiar you are with the lifestyle of its main characters. Tao Lin’s writing style — in this novel, it’s hazy, listless and unflinching — calls to mind Bret Easton Ellis’ narrators, and there’s a similar “it takes one to know one” element to Taipei as there is to American Psycho or Glamorama. Could you grasp the incisive details of either of those novels if you were wholly unfamiliar with the excesses ‘80s and ‘90s Manhattan? (The Ellis-Lin connection isn’t entirely my own observation; Ellis is quoted on the book jacket praising Lin as “the most interesting prose stylist of his generation.”)
Lin writes like a millennials’ Ellis. He bundles the lack of direction, convenient friendships and moral relativism that characterize the lowest moments of urban 20-something life and hands the package back to readers in a story that I found, at times, existentially terrifying.
The main character, Paul, is a young Brooklyn-based writer whose sole obligation is to show up on time — and preferably coherent — to stops on his book tour. The rest of his life is unfettered. Friends, girlfriends and drugs come and go with little examination. His life’s rhythm is spiritually manic: bouts of extreme fascination, self-consciousness and analysis followed by a general indifference and melancholy. If you recognize elements of yourself or of your friends in Paul, the novel becomes alarming.
No one holds a mirror to Paul and his cohorts, and so they stumble through entire seasons — biological rhythms replaced by pharmaceutical ones — tethered only by laptop screens and friends they can barely identify. Everyone grins a lot, mistakes people for each other and has a hard time making eye contact. Lin’s writing, like his characters’ lives, is prismatic and dulling. Reading the novel for long stretches feels sedative. Taipei is like a drug that, when its fascinating effects wear off, leaves one chilled and uncomfortable.
Taipei is a novel about the modern danger of failing to reach oneself and to connect with others. When I feel like I’m hurtling through weeks and months too quickly, not making time to be present with the people I love, I invite a friend or two over for breakfast. No phones, no TVs — I cook something simple, put on a pot of coffee and we catch up. It never fails to center me.
WAFFLES WITH RASPBERRY-GINGER MAPLE SYRUP
For the waffles
- 1 ¾ cup all-purpose flour
- 1 tablespoon baking powder
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 tablespoon sugar
- 1 teaspoon cinnamon
- 2 large eggs, separated
- 1 ½ cup whole milk
- 6 tablespoon unsalted butter, melted
For the syrup
- 8 oz. maple syrup
- 1 cup raspberries (preferably fresh, though you could substitute frozen)
- 1 teaspoon dried ginger, less if using fresh grated ginger
- fresh raspberries
- whipped cream
Warm up a waffle iron. In a large bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, cinnamon, salt and sugar. In another bowl, whisk together egg yolks, milk and melted butter, reserving the egg whites separately.
Pour maple syrup into a small saucepan, heat over medium heat. Add raspberries and ginger. Once raspberries become softer, macerate with a fork. Once berries are macerated and fragrant, reduce heat to low, stirring occasionally.
Pour wet waffle ingredients into dry ingredients and stir with a wooden spoon until just barely combined; the batter should be lumpy. With an electric mixer, beat egg whites on high speed until soft peaks form. Fold egg whites into batter with a plastic spatula; do not stir.
Pour ½ cup to 1 cup of batter into waffle iron (depending on iron size). Bake as directed by the iron’s manufacturer. Waffles can be kept warm on a baking sheet in a 200ºF oven until ready to serve.
Once waffles are ready to serve, remove syrup from heat and strain through a mesh sieve to remove raspberry seeds. Serve syrup in a ramekin with a spoon or from a small pitcher.