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Real Life: A Novel Hardcover – February 18, 2020
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From the Publisher
“[A] stunning debut . . . Taylor proves himself to be a keen observer of the psychology of not just trauma, but its repercussions. . . . There is a delicacy in the details of working in a lab full of microbes and pipettes that dances across the pages like the feet of a Cunningham dancer: pure, precise poetry.” —Jeremy O. Harris, The New York Times Book Review
“Equal parts captivating, erotic, smart and vivid . . . [rendered] with tenderness and complexity, from the first gorgeous sentence of his book to its very last . . . Taylor is also tackling loneliness, desire and—more than anything—finding purpose, meaning and happiness in one’s own life.” —Time
“[Real Life is] a sophisticated character study of someone squaring self-preservation with a duty to tolerate people who threaten it. The book teems with passages of transfixing description, and perhaps its greatest asset is the force of Wallace’s isolation, which Taylor conveys with alien strangeness.” —The New Yorker
“Real Life is a tender, deeply felt, perfectly paced novel about solitude and society, sexuality and race. It explores what the past means and, with brilliance and sympathy, dramatizes the intricacies of love and grief.” —Colm Tóibín
“A blistering coming of age story. . . [Taylor] is so deft at portraying the burdens that befall young queer people of color and the forces that often hamper true connection.” —O: The Oprah Magazine
“Brandon Taylor emerges as a powerhouse . . . . In tender, intimate and distinctive writing, Taylor explores race, sexuality and desire with a cast of unforgettable characters.” —Newsweek
“A pleasure . . . So well written I felt like I was watching the events, rather than just reading the prose.” —NPR
“[A] classical ideal of a novel . . . Every scene, every dialogue, fits perfectly over a hall-of-famer first sentence[,] delicate interlocking layers of story that build satisfyingly up and out around Wallace, his father, and his friends.” —The Paris Review
“A perfect, meditative read.” – USA TODAY
“Both calm and quiet and furiously dramatic, internal and external, Real Life moves like, well, real life—but with a key difference. Real life itself can be super boring. But Real Life . . . is utterly captivating all the way through.” —Isaac Fitzgerald, The Today Show
“Taylor’s vivid characterization is punishingly effective; his essayistic insights into cultural dynamics and their impact hold searing power. Erotic and ambiguous [and] hard to shake.” – Entertainment Weekly
“One of the best debut novels in recent memory. . . . [Real Life] leaves the reader spinning. In a good way.” —Shondaland
“Brandon Taylor reimagines the dusty expectations of the campus novel . . . Taylor is a brilliant and eloquent prose-stylist who effortlessly conveys entire lives in brief flashes of narrative insight. Most impressively, he writes deftly about the blurring of attraction, friendship, and grief.” —Alex McElroy, BuzzFeed News
“With the rigour of the laboratory, Taylor wields scalpel-like prose, putting human behaviours under the microscope . . . precise and masterly.” —Financial Times
“What Taylor does next will be worth watching.” –The Washington Post
“A novel of quiet, startling power.” —Harper’s Bazaar
“Taylor avoids cliches around campus living and instead—through various interpersonal and institutional scuffles—offers a look at the relentless erosion of dignity many students of color experience at college. —SELF
“Psychologically compelling, incisively satirical, told in a muted style that nevertheless accesses a full emotional range, this is a brilliant book, worthy of a wide audience.” —The Guardian
“A profound look at the depths of desire, knowledge and prejudice . . . a refreshing take on the traditional campus novel.” —VICE
“Taylor’s debut is of a rare and vital sort. . . . Taylor’s grip on the subtle movements of the human heart and psyche is masterful.” —Huffington Post
“Astonishingly accomplished . . . Even at its darkest moments, Real Life is a piercingly beautiful book. In tracing the fault-lines that rip through Wallace’s emotional world, Brandon Taylor has written a truly exquisite story of love, sex, death, and microbes that is both intimate and expansive.” —Times Literary Supplement
“Explosive . . . [Real Life] gets so much right.” —The Point
“The writer who came most to mind as I read Real Life was James Baldwin, especially the erotic Baldwin, attuned to social pressure and violence, and deeply committed to the power, the uneasy force, of sex. . . . The exquisite tension in Taylor’s litany of physical details underscores the harshness that threatens the scene’s placid surface. . . . The details here have the savor of the real.” —Bookforum
“Real Life is a great American novel, a great college novel, a great summer novel, a great queer novel, a great novel of life as it has always been lived by young people waiting for their 'real life' to begin, and just a really, really great novel. . . . It's the best novel I’ve read this year.'” —Dazed
“Brandon Taylor’s Real Life doubles as a great grad student novel (most attempts trade in stereotypes; this offers the real, complicated, dark thing) and a great, positively Persuasion-like novel about the relationship between consciousness and embodiment.” —Commonweal
“A poignant, exacting story. . . . Taylor is an extraordinary cartographer of Wallace’s loneliness, crafting a finely wrought story of academia, intimacy, and identity.” —Esquire
“Real Life asks questions many of us shy from: Who is entitled to pain? How useful is an apology? Can sharing our feelings free us from them? . . . Amid the flurry of new novels drifting down like so many balloons, Real Life is the one weighted with confetti.” —The Paris Review
"Taylor brings the precision of a scientist to his descriptions of Wallace’s desires and defenses. . . . [capturing] the ennui of those caught between the lure and the loneliness of academic science, trapped in an existence that doesn’t qualify as a 'real life.'" —Forbes
"Astounding." —LA Review of Books
“[Taylor] is as keen an observer as his subject is, and he writes with extraordinary precision: about the academy, and queerness, and race, and trauma, and ambivalent friendship, and desire. About all the things that, put together, make up something approaching real life.” —Constance Grady, Vox
“Taylor shares a talent for acerbic social commentary and smart dialogue with fellow ‘campus novelist’ Sally Rooney. . . . a deeply moving study of race, grief and desire.” —The Sunday Times
“Real Life poignantly illustrates the dissonance of not feeling accepted or understood at an institution that aggressively markets itself as immaculately progressive.” —The Guardian
“A literary breakthrough.” –Interview
“Brandon Taylor’s bravura first novel… shines a vital light on race, class and sexuality, and in doing so leaves his reader in no doubt as to his unique voice and talent.” – Minneapolis Star-Tribune
“Taylor's writing is vibrant as much as it is brutal in its elegance and poignancy” – Paper
“A masterful debut.” – LAMBDA Literary
“A book wonderfully observant on the toxicity of whiteness, and a reminder of what even the smallest racial slights can do to the body and mind.” – Wired
“As a stylist Taylor has, sentence by sentence, crafted an experience of bone-deep pleasure for the reader that stands not at odds with the melancholy of the tone of Wallace's story but in loving support of it. The penultimate chapter alone is a knockout, and its end would have been a magnificent closing for the book had the actual final sentence, a few pages later, not surpassed it.” —Salon
“In the character of Wallace[,] readers are gifted one of the most compelling and original characters in recent memory.” —The Advocate
“No one with a former life as a biochemist should be able to write a novel as devastatingly good as Real Life is, but here we are.” —Thrillist
“The most indelible stories will not prepare us for heartbreak, and Brandon Taylor’s debut novel is merciless in this way. . . . I’ve dreamt for eons of a novel to depict gay Black men, rich with feeling and desire, reclaiming their narrative from the throes of whiteness. Without a doubt, Real Life is the first great novel this decade will ever see.” — Paris Close, Paperback Paris
“Brandon Taylor won 2020. His debut book came out in February and it is still always on the tip of my tongue when someone asks for a recommendation. He crafted such a quiet moody book that is somehow more explosive than an action-packed thriller.” —Debutiful
“The best portrayal of an introvert’s inner and outer life in recent memory. With smooth prose and a deeply nuanced protagonist, Real Life is one of those timeless stories that also perfectly captures a generational moment.” —LitHub
“Just as Sally Rooney’s second novel perfectly captures the intimacies of a young relationship, Brandon Taylor’s provocative debut tests the boundaries put in place by a queer, black graduate student.” —Bookpage
“Taylor is a writer who really gets the indignities of inhabiting a human body, how the physical is so intimately tied to the emotional. . . . Wallace is a heady mix of judgmental and vulnerable, and it’s hard not to root for him even if he decides to blow his life up.” —Vulture
“Brandon Taylor’s long-anticipated debut novel tackles timely issues while introducing a compelling protagonist who will stick with you long after the final page.” —Paste
“One of those books that perfectly captures a generational moment while also feeling timeless.” —Sarah Neilson, Them
“Taylor’s perceptive, challenging exploration of the many kinds of emotional costs will resonate with readers looking for complex characters and rich prose.” —Publishers Weekly
“Breathlessly physical . . . steadily exciting and affecting . . . [a] charged experience.” —Booklist (starred review)
“There is writing so exceptional, so intricately crafted that it demands reverence. The intimate prose of Brandon Taylor’s exquisite debut novel, Real Life, offers exactly that kind of writing. He writes so powerfully about so many things—the perils of graduate education, blackness in a predominantly white setting, loneliness, desire, trauma, need. Wallace, the man at the center of this novel, is written with nuance and tenderness and complexity. . . . Truly, this is stunning work from a writer who wields his craft in absolutely unforgettable ways.” —Roxane Gay
“The affections and disaffections of grad school life are shot through with the searing experience of white racial presumption and blindness in Brandon Taylor’s vivid and exacting Real Life.” —Adam Haslett
“This book blew my head and heart off. For a debut novelist to disentangle and rebraid intimacy, terror, and joy this finely seems like a myth. But that, and so much more, is what Brandon Taylor has done in Real Life. The future of the novel is here and Brandon Taylor is that future’s name.”
“Real Life is a gorgeous work of art, and the introduction of a singular new voice. Through Wallace, the book explores the tension of a person trying to become himself while surrounded by people who can see him only as their own projection. Even as Brandon Taylor dives beneath the level of polite surface interaction and into the ache of what people conceal from one another, or reveal only as weaponry, his sharply rendered observations make it a true pleasure to spend time in this book’s world.”
“Real Life is one of the finest fiction debuts I've read in the last decade—elegant and brutal, handled by an author whose attention to the heart is unlike any other's. A magnificent novel.”
—Esmé Weijun Wang
“A few summer days, a group of friends, a difficult intimacy—with the simplest materials, Real Life reveals the knives we pocket in good intentions, our constant, communal sabotage of love. Brandon Taylor’s genius lies in the elaboration of ever more revelatory gradations of feeling; in his extraordinary debut he invents new tools for navigating the human dark in which we know one another. He is a brilliant writer, and this is a beautiful book.”
About the Author
- Publisher : Riverhead Books (February 18, 2020)
- Language : English
- Hardcover : 336 pages
- ISBN-10 : 0525538887
- ISBN-13 : 978-0525538882
- Item Weight : 13.8 ounces
- Dimensions : 5.59 x 1.26 x 8.31 inches
- Best Sellers Rank: #63,010 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- Customer Reviews:
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Top reviews from the United States
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A little less than half way through Real Life, I had had it! And I did not waste any more time trying to slog through it.
Poetic, interesting prose is always a plus in novels. However, here, the author seemed to use everything he had ever thought of, in terms of colorful language, and plaster it into every sentence he could. After a while, you wished he would just have a simple sentence, where one thing was just what it was, not representational of something much more poetic.
There was so much talk about disecting worms, and other miniature bio stuff under a microscope, that it just got tiring. Also, When well written, sex scenes in novels can be very erotic and sensual. Here, his description of sexual encounters was just boring. Made me wonder if the author had ever had a great sexual experience himself. And finally, the novel did not seem to really be heading in any direction that would have brought it all together. I did peek at the last part of the story, and it did not seem to have gotten any better by then.
What's sad here, is there was so much promise for a great novel in the idea of this story. All sorts of offshoots of the story could have been told and made it much better.
The back and forth with Wallace's time in the lab was also distracting to me. There's in depth descriptions of him working with his petri dishes that goes on for many pages and I felt it added very little to the story. Wallace is not a very likable main character to follow, and while this may be the author's intention, I found it a struggle to care about what happened to him.
The only part of the story I really found interesting was the budding relationship between Miller and Wallace, but that quickly turns very ugly in the end and is a bit hard to read about due to the violence portrayed. As a gay man, I am finding it a bit tiresome that commercially published authors keep showcasing these kinds of dysfunctional, abusive gay relationships. Where is the love? It would be great if more healthy, compassionate gay relationships were published by the big five. That is what I would like to see more of. Not this.
I do not recommend this book.
Top reviews from other countries
In terms of style, the first pages are well written, which I typically base my decision to buy on - obviously this is a strategy of the publisher to make you buy this book. After page 30, the book loses momentum and is a drag to read. Endless scenes about the most mundane things and terrible dialogue. When I say endless, I mean whole chapters. 40 pages make up one scene. I am not sure if the editor thought this was a particularly "clever" stylistic means or what - but it isn't. There are also way too many characters that make no difference to the plot - the author could have cut ten of them.
Something that really bothered me was the tense problems this book has. It starts out in past tense, but then switches to present tense in the second chapter with no apparent reason - the events in both chapters happen on the same timeline.
In the middle of the book, there is a long first person mologue style chapter which is supposed to be revealing a secret about the main character, but the reader already knows the secret, so it doesn't have much effect. It is also written in one long paragraph which spans over pages, which a drag to read.
The only thing I liked about it was the first chapter, where the love affair between Wallace and Miller is depicted. There were some issues with the structure of the chapter and a logic error that the editor just glossed over, but the depiction of the character's internal world at that point was fascinating. Afterwards, it all becomes boring and melodramatic. Also hated the overuse of "gingerly" and "he let him," and the use of a lot of adverbs.
The majority of readers have no deep interest in the laboratory process of something to do with microscopic worms. Background information to the main character’s academic life assists the reader; interminable and disproportional detail induces page skipping. The same is true for page after page on the skills of the characters of the book hitting a ball across a tennis court.
The Real Life of the main character evolves as one of abuse, workplace bullying and racial prejudice. The story is about how it impacts his life and mental health. Interestingly, whilst he lives with everyday racism, there is no hint of homophobia from his college peers, either direct or cloaked throughout the book.
Some sections of the book are brutal in their description of abuse. The internal processing of the abuse by the victim is insightful and is as painful to read as the abuse itself.
Many good books do not have a traditional ending. Unfortunately, this is an unsatisfying book with an unfulfilling ending.
Brandon Taylor can write good descriptive prose. All of this has the potential for a very meaningful novel. But this is lost in a long deluge of banal socialising, empty dialogue, and repeated graphic sex scenes. A possible fleeting interpretation is offered when Taylor writes ‘Only the prospect of greater unhappiness keeps them within the circumscribed world of graduate school’ (p259). But this is quickly re-submerged in a novel which is left, sadly, flat and boring.
I felt huge sympathy for the lead character and it was an interesting insight into the gut wrenching circumstances he finds himself in at this point in his early adulthood. But it was all pretty depressing.
Not recommended if you need either a rollicking story or a mental boost during a pandemic!
Hopefully the writer will do more as he's obviously hugely talented.