” They’ll think we’re on drugs if we’re not on drugs. We’re normal when we’re on drugs. ” (Ch.4, p.149)
After the first few pages of Taipei, my impression is that this is Bret Easton Ellis in the hipster age, in which social media virtuality has become the reality. In this relentlessly realistic novel, a writer named Paul wanders around New York and Taipei with his girlfriend Erin and takes a lot of drugs. They chug down Adderall, Xanax, Klonopin, Percocet, MDMA, Oxycodone, Methadone, mushrooms, LSD, cocaine, and more. (I had to consult the dictionary of pills to see what some of the drugs are.) Not surprisingly, this chemical regime rather restricts what else they can get up to—like they have to rely on the numbing, altered effect of drugs to be productive, to be able to navigate from one party to the next in wee hours.
In DuMont Burger’s bathroom Paul swallowed half of half a 30mg Oxycodone and .5mg Xanax, feebly amused to be already deviating, in moderate excess, from his plans to ingest specific amounts of drugs at certain times during his book tour. (Ch.3, p.92)
Between his musings and wanderings, Paul appears in his book readings continually aroused but perpetually dull. He’s constantly aware of time, the food he eats, the drugs he has to procure, the location of Whole Foods (Yup. Whole Foods must be a proud sponsor for this book since Lin mentions it almost every other page), but his thoughts rarely coherent. His fragmented thinking follows his narcissistic flights of fancy, reflecting on how his over-protective mother had spoiled him, and how he avoided social interaction in school. In a way, social media suits him well: he can be on top of everything social behind the computer screen. Taipei gives the impression of somnolence, with an underlying tone of desperation and despair.
The continuous draw of this novel (a very quick read) is my curiosity over how this drug-o-rama will end for Paul, who actually “felt grateful to be alive. ” (127) It’s a very close portrait of an internet-shaped psyche—but this doesn’t mean the book isn’t boring. There’s sudden intrigue like when Paul first meets his wife, he reads “all four years of her Facebook wall.” His existence depends on being constantly on the go—always either somewhere other than where he just was. Toward the end of the book, I realize drugs aren’t even the most damaging. His real threat is actually love, because he’s been trying to run away from real conversations and the emotions they produce. It’s the decline of positive outlook in life in the face of social media addiction.
248 pp. Vintage Contemporaries. Paper. [Read|Skim|Toss] [Buy|Borrow]