Book Review: Leave Society
Leave Society is, to borrow its protagonist’s phrase, the record of a “life explored with leisurely meticulousness.” The book begins in 2014 and chronicles a novelist named Li’s life as he writes a novel and travels between Manhattan and Taipei investigating alternative medicine, mainstream and non-mainstream science, cultural anthropology, and the history of the universe. Transcriptions of recorded conversations along with emails and texts make for oddly compelling reading, as do almost clinical descriptions of walks, dietary choices, and consultations with healthcare practitioners.
In Taipei, Li, a blatant stand-in for the author, microdoses psychedelics while living with his parents and their poodle. He feels he’s in a “realistic, many-scened, calmly mystical novel in which he and his parents were sympathetic, amusing characters.” (He is and they are!) Without ever resorting to satire, Li humorously but lovingly portrays his attempts to persuade his parents “to use natural toothpaste, soap, and cosmetics; drink green smoothies; and add fish liver oil, ghee, seaweed, chlorella, sprouted seeds and nuts, and fermented vegetable to their diets.”
Spoiler: After confronting the toxicity inherent in modern city life, Li does leave society. (Lin himself has recently moved from Manhattan to Hawaii.) There’s also a love story that surprises everyone. More surprising still, coming from an author who has written so much about his own anxiety, depression, technology addiction, and drug abuse, is Li’s realization that he’ll continue to “be able to recover from himself, his nearest source of despair.” This leaves him with a “calming, poignant joy, which dilate[s], touching all parts of him.”