Posts Tagged ‘Brandon Taylor’

‘Real Life’ by Brandon Taylor – Real Life at the University


‘Real Life’ by Brandon Taylor (2020) – 327 pages

As I was reading the campus novel ‘Real Life’, the descriptions of the student union and the nearby lake seemed very, very familiar. I looked at the author’s bio in the back and found that one of the places Brandon Taylor had done graduate work was the University of Wisconsin-Madison, my alma mater. As I was reading ‘Real Life’, it was almost like I was back there sitting at an outdoor table on the Memorial Union terrace near the shore of Lake Mendota.

In ‘Real Life’ we see the world from the point of view of Wallace, a perceptive sensitive graduate student studying bio-science. He is doing research on nematodes, a kind of small worm that is able to reproduce rapidly and thus is ideal for genetic research.

Wallace has a small group of friends, most of whom are also doing graduate work in bio-science. In the first chapter and throughout the novel, Brandon Taylor captures all the subtle and not-so-subtle interactive dynamics of just a few college guys and gals sitting at a restaurant table talking. Early on the readers know they are in the hands of a master. Nearly every sentence gave me a smile of recognition.

And they fell into that chilly silence that comes between two people who ought to be close but who are not because of some early, critical miscalculation.”

Wallace is gay and black.

Through his character Wallace, Brandon Taylor explores those profound racial tensions that we all know exist but we cannot express.

The most unfair part of it, Wallace thinks, is that when you tell white people that something is racist, they hold it up to the light and try to discern if you are telling the truth. As if they can tell by the grain if something is racist or not, and they always trust their own judgment. It’s unfair because white people have a vested interest in underestimating racism, its amount, its intensity, its shape, its effects. They are the fox in the hen house.”

Throughout the novel, I was impressed with the ability of the author to go deeper into the psyches of his characters mainly through dialogue. ‘Real Life’ is a novel a reader can immerse oneself in as Wallace probes his life situation.

Is this what Dana was trying to say to him earlier? That he’s not the only one who has a hard time? That he doesn’t have some sort of monopoly on misery? But it’s different, he wanted to say then and wants to say now. It’s different. Can’t you see that? It’s different.”

Ordinarily I cannot relate to the quite explicit gay love scenes, but from Brandon Taylor’s original insights into other subjects, I suspect these scenes in the novel are true to life.

‘Real Life’ is long listed for the 2020 Booker Prize.

If you are looking for a novel that has profound insights into human behavior yet still is enjoyable, ‘Real Life’ is an excellent choice.


Grade:    A



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