Stylistically, the book is artful, even radical ... Despite, or perhaps because of, its virtues, the novel doesn’t hold the reader in its thrall. It meanders, linking scenes of low-key bickering in a gentle ebb and flow of harmony and disharmony. It doesn’t seem to mind if you put it down ... But the novel has a vision, however cracked, an idea connected to its form, which is more than I can say for most books.
With its emphasis on the partnership model of gender relations, Leave Society often reads as a veiled attempt to redress Lin’s past failures, particularly his abuses of power, in relationships ... As part of his efforts at self-betterment, Li tries to mediate between his parents, as well as improve his own relations with them ... These scenes are elegantly structured, with Li’s meditations guiding the reader through the delicately shifting dynamics among the three of them, like a particularly sensitive weathervane ... While the language in Leave Society remains stark in places—Lin’s descriptive skills are greatly inferior to his ability to capture mood and generate humor through dialogue—there is a subtlety to his observations that feels like a progression ... To develop one’s style so extensively, and with such success, over four books is no mean feat, a testament to Lin’s fastidious editing process. Many of the ideas offered up in Leave Society are murky, bordering on conspiracy theory ... What is interesting in Leave Society, however, is not the truth or falsity of its arguments—this is marketed as a work of fiction, after all—but how such arguments inflect character ... The final sentence of Leave Society [is] “Li took a leaf' ... On my first reading of Leave Society, I did not know what, if anything, to make of the homophone 'leaf' and 'leave.' On the second reading, when I was better accustomed to Lin’s humor and his delight in multiplicity, it seemed to me both metaphorical and literal, playful and quite serious, a brilliant, almost perfect ending.
If Lin’s earlier books felt voiced by a human resigned to becoming an automaton, then this one speaks in a voice of resistance, albeit a deluded one ... The generous read is that Lin’s poking fun at the half-baked ontological musings of a dude who’s taken way too much acid. But my sense is that Lin expects readers to give Li’s theory of the 'overmind' serious consideration ... For this kind of novel to work, however, the tensions usually generated by plot must be replaced by internal ones, and the novel’s ideas must be stimulating enough to sustain a reader’s interest. Unfortunately, here, there’s nothing to push up against Li’s zealotry, or to suggest that his druggy epiphanies are anything but profound ... By the end of the novel, Li has fallen in love with Kay ... I’m happy for them, though less so for Lin’s readers. At one point earlier on, Li concludes that conflict isn’t 'necessary for art.' Leave Society suggests he might reconsider.