Oprah's Next Pick?: Tao Lin Plays Franzen
Forgive me for what must seem like my 10th straight Franzen post, but the well keeps providing. In this case, it's my friends at the Stranger, our local weekly with, among other things, consistently the best covers in the whole world. And this week's, pictured to the right, is a gem. I have yet to acquire a taste for Tao Lin's mirror-world of self-promotion and 'net-era banality (though I've been told by folks I trust--and who have shared my past skepticism--that his new novel, Richard Yates, is actually pretty compelling), but there is something vertiginous and human about looking at him looking slightly off to the side as he fills Franzen's Great American Novelist silhouette with a discomforted pride nearly equal to that of the original.
Continue on to his profile inside the paper (written, of course, by himself), and you'll descend further into that mirror world. What begins, and often returns to, a nearly word-for-word parody of the Franzen Time piece also veers off into what I assume is typical Lin material, which reads like an endless bewildered and self-sotted status update. There are a few layers of jokes going on here, but though I'm fond of anyone working in the vast shadow of Timese parody cast by Wolcott Gibbs in 1936 it's too late at night for me to try to sort them out (Thought Catalog took a stab at it, but Gawker doesn't even seem to realize that there is a joke involved...). But what I liked best, and what got under my skin most--aside from those averted eyes!--was the lost and distractedly manic sense of Lin's self-portrait juxtaposed with Franzen's already famous superglue sealing off of himself from the busyness of the world. Lin, for better or worse, vividly shows why Franzen would do that, and why you might be glad he did. --Tom