Being alive is enough to make you feel lost, especially when paired with an impotent Liberal Arts degree or ending your closest relationships. A person’s current station may feel unreal on account of its remoteness from the person’s roots. Justin Taylor explores a vibrant variety of circumstances in which people confront their distance from what they consider home. Of particular intrigue throughout Taylor’s stories are the unique and recognizable ways in which people work to generate meaning in circumstances old and new.
Taylor’s protagonists are of all different ages, and share articulate imaginations that make their first-person narrations shockingly expository, yet relatable. We receive these generous, self-aware outpours from characters in all different positions. Some of these intelligent people find themselves in odd, menial sinecures, e.g. dressed as a mushroom to promote a restaurant, while some of them pursue seemingly more appropriate applications of their mental prowess, like working toward MFAs or Ph.Ds. But none of them gets too caught up in their work, or mired in feelings of being adrift, to create new experiences with other people around.
Taylor also shows the incredible closeness between two people who, perhaps amid their personal feelings of being lost, have at least found the other. As desperate as a human being can feel in a period of detachment from the people in his or her life, he or she can feel equally content in the caring company of the likeminded.
Some characters demonstrate the subtle ways in which exposure to religious tradition can empower someone’s self-expression. One character, understanding none of the words, belts a Hebrew song learned at Jewish summer camp to ease his mind in a private moment. (Speaking of Jewish summer camp, Taylor reports deftly on the relationships formed there, illicit and otherwise.)
Characters craft new lives for themselves right after their old ones come to an abrupt end. Even though their old selves were so solidified over a long time, they are abandoned with sometimes scary ease. New lives become real lives fast.
Taylor’s collection is about how flings usually aren’t flings: any relationship, no matter how seemingly circumstantial and discrete, can alter a person’s frame of mind or life trajectory, or resurface down the line significantly and unexpectedly. Alternatively, sometimes, an affair’s greatest impact on a person is coloring his or memories in some small way. And sometimes, calling a relationship a fling gives someone the strength to start over.
Benjamin Abramowitz is an MFA student at Sarah Lawrence College and Fiction Editor of the literary magazine Construction.