Shoplifting from American Apparel is part of Melville House Publishing’s “Contemporary Novellas” series. I believe the point of the series is to provide a place for writers to publish short works, longer than what would fit into the usual short fiction outlets. The novella is a complelling format: long enough that the author can stretch out a little and expand on the characters, but short enough to read in a sitting or two. That’s a nice change of pace in between big, complicated books.
Tao Lin’s entry in the series is a collection of brief moments in the life of Sam, a writer who seems to drift around thinking about writing and interacting with whomever happens to be around in the backyards, bars and parties he attends. The writing is crisp and short, and there’s very little plot beyond Sam and where he goes. But at 112 printed pages, I wouldn’t expect a grand plot anyway.
There’s a lot of product placement in the novella, and I suspect that the commercialization of our lives is part of the point Lin is making. At one point Sam started thinking about what his life might be like if he were to really work hard on his writing:
Loneliness and depression would be defeated with a king-size bed, an expensive stereo system, a drum set, a bike, an unlimited supply of organic produce and coconuts, and maybe calmly playing an online role-playing game.
This idea doesn’t get very far, though, and the next scene is largely about the sound a “Synergy” brand kombucha makes when dropped on the ground. I think part of the message here is not that much really happens in real life, and we don’t really know what the moments are that are going to be really meaningful at the time they happen (either that or our lives are basically filled with moments that aren't meaningful).
Anyway, it was a fun read. I like the style and the way Sam moves through his world, but it makes me wonder how Lin would handle a longer format. I wouldn’t want to have read much more than the length of this book at least not without something actually happening.