BY EMILY DUREN
If you want to find out what it feels like, both mentally and physically, to take nearly every psychedelic drug without having to suffer the side effects, look no further than novelist and poet Tao Lin’s Trip: Psychedelics, Alienation, and Change.
Trip, Lin’s first memoir, centers on the time he was working on his novel Taipei, during which he discovered the work of the late Terrence McKenna, one of the biggest proponents of psychedelics. Deeply alienated while writing Taipei, Lin discovers McKenna’s research and becomes infatuated with the questions he poses about language, beliefs, and existence. However, interest eventually turns to adoption, and the reader is taken through a drug-fueled journey of DMT, MDMA, and many other psychedelics.
Through its mix of narrative nonfiction and idiosyncratic diary entries, Trip satisfies the human voyeuristic curiosity. On the surface, Lin comes across as a rambling young man whose obsessiveness is as troubling as his addiction—and it becomes unclear, many times, where the line between the two blurs. However, read more than fifty pages or so, and it becomes evident that everything Lin does is deliberate, from listing his entire drug history from childhood on, to summarizing McKenna’s entire life in sixteen pages. It is generally easy to select one thing that stands out about a book, but Trip has so many quirks, there’s no one best thing about it—whether it’s a childhood memory, a scene from one of his trips, or a passage about McKenna’s life, Lin has an uncanny ability to make the reader feel like they’re in the room with him or instantly transported back to 1960’s Asia with McKenna. No psychedelic is spoken about without the science behind it being broken down in the most succinct and captivating way. And, most important, as a narrator, Lin is—either due to his willingness to be so candid about his drug use and depression or because of how relatable his rationale for doing something so widely accepted as irrational is—soul-piercingly trustworthy.
Through Terrence McKenna’s own research, and Lin’s journey with drugs, Lin raises many of his own questions—including the legality of psychedelics and how far their effects really reach—in a way becoming his own McKenna.
Bizarre and thought-provoking, this is not a book you’ll walk away from without a few new questions of your own.
Emily Duren is a nonfiction writer and wannabe poet. She’s currently getting her MFA in creative writing from UCR–Palm Desert, where she’s nonfiction editor of The Coachella Review. When not writing, she can be found watching true crime documentaries and reminiscing about the ’90s.