In a new suite of powerful and incisive stories, Justin Taylor captures the lives of men and women unmoored from their pasts and uncertain of their futures. A man writes his girlfriend a Dear John letter, gets in his car, and just drives. A widowed insomniac is roused from malaise when an alligator appears in her backyard. A group of college friends try to stay close after graduation, but are drawn away from - and back toward - each other by the choices they make. A boy's friendship with a pair of identical twins undergoes a strange and tragic evolution over the course of adolescence. A promising academic and her fiancée attempt to finish their dissertations, but struggle with writer's block, a nasty secret, and their own expert knowledge of Freud.
I chose this book after reading a story by the author, "So You're Just What, Gone?" in The New Yorker. It was a brilliant story, and I wanted to read more by the author. But short story collections are difficult in audiobooks. I stick with my audiobooks to the finish, and short story collections work better in small doses. In this case, there was a sense of diminishing returns as story after story focused on aimless young people, often having "flings." The major characters in these stories--typically in their 20s, post-college--lack ambition but not smarts. They don't want to be doctors or lawyers, politicians or business leaders, and the would-be poets lack discipline. They just want to get through the night or the relationship and enjoy some music or sex or drugs.
Taylor is an excellent writer. The stories had a lot of charm. I especially liked a couple of them in which the narrator jumped from person to person in a small group of friends, almost arbitrarily, as they made their way through post-college years (the first story) or an attractive woman's 30th birthday party. Others dealt sensitively with family relationships, both with small children and aging parents. A story in which a 72-year-old widow handled her insomnia and her aging friends was touching, and a nice change from the wandering post-grads.
It is usually a mistake for the author to read his own work, and this book was no exception. Justin Taylor read with somewhat stilted enunciation, without a lot of emotion. These are not poems by Robert Frost or TS Eliot, in which the author's voice brings special insight to his work. Professional narrators could have brought more drama, character and interest to the reading.
Overall, a strong writer and an enjoyable book, but the stories would have meant more if they were read one at a time over several months.
4 of 4 people found this review helpful