Every­thing Here is the Best Thing Ever

  • Review
By – September 26, 2011

Epi­grams abound in Justin Taylor’s sto­ries. Everyone’s their own best lover,” one voice observes. The assump­tion of knowl­edge is one part of the fan­ta­sy of mas­tery,” mus­es a dif­fer­ent nar­ra­tor. One of his char­ac­ters reproves anoth­er: Every day of your life is get­ting some­thing you nev­er asked for.” 

That kind of com­pressed truth exem­pli­fies Taylor’s strengths, which com­bine sur­prise with unex­pect­ed depth. At first glance his sto­ries resem­ble Flori­da trail­er-park fic­tion, with grotesque char­ac­ters who may be poor, crude, drunk, and vio­lent. Then a stoned char­ac­ter puts down a friend’s remark with the rhetor­i­cal ques­tion, Who’s that? Barthelme?,” and the read­er sud­den­ly finds him­self on a dif­fer­ent plane entirely. 

Beyond the lit­er­ary ref­er­ences, which are numer­ous, Taylor’s sophis­ti­ca­tion shows itself in the way he treats exis­ten­tial ques­tions about hap­pi­ness, love, jus­tice, good­ness, and eter­ni­ty, con­cerns that lie at the heart of great lit­er­a­ture. Per­haps sub­con­scious­ly he brings to mind Isaac Bashe­vis Singer, anoth­er Jew­ish writer who felt at home with ghosts, angels, mag­ic spells, sex­u­al desire, human fail­ings, mor­tal­i­ty, spir­i­tu­al yearn­ings, and with oth­er writers. 

Taylor’s descrip­tions are stun­ning in their evoca­tive orig­i­nal­i­ty, such as talk radio that makes your brain shriv­el up like a salt­ed slug.” A man car­ries an injured woman like a mon­ster with a cher­ished vic­tim.” A young East Vil­lage woman is summed up as a bot­tle blond with end-of-sea­son-sale design­er wear.” His voice is utter­ly con­tem­po­rary, includ­ing its casu­al atti­tude towards a flu­id and some­times bru­tal sex­u­al­i­ty. The tour de force of this col­lec­tion, Jew­els Flash­ing in the Night of Time,” exam­ines pow­er and obses­sion as it seam­less­ly inte­grates the tor­tures of Abu Ghraib, meat­slic­ing at a deli, quotes from Georges Bataille’s Sto­ry of the Eye, and masochis­tic sex. This is a mem­o­rable, aston­ish­ing debut.

Read Justin Tay­lor’s Posts for the Vis­it­ing Scribe

Discussion Questions