by Justin Taylor
Sometimes you really want to hate a writer.
For example, one reason to hate Justin Taylor is that his name is kinda like Justin Bieber's. The Justin part is the part that gets you. Also he's bound to be a quirky hysterical realist, which (I've always believed) is a trend today, especially among writers of my generation.
Yet Justin Taylor's debut is strong, albeit a bit uneven at points. But Taylor, at 28, brings a maturity in short story composition--a type Carveresque minimalism--that should be envy of every writer. See, for example, the opening of "A House in Our Arms:"
"We made it to New York.
That's how we put it when we talk about it with each other, even though it means something different to each of us, and even though we're both pretty used to it by now, I came straight from school, worked some crap jobs, then landed a decent one. It's at a hedge fund and I hate it, at least theoretically. In practice I find the more time I spend doing it the less I feel one way or the other. It's just what I'm doing, what I do. I work with nice enogh people. They started me out as an assistant but I'm already almost a junior manager. Who knows where I might wind up if I stick around?"
Like Carver, Taylor's narrators are aware of their own life standings. Yet unlike Carver, his characters these are younger people, kids who made it out from college and don't know what to do. Yet again, like Carver, there is a strong sense of floating here: these are stories of people who had the bad end of the deal, trying to figure out what to do. It's about class, yet it's not just about class.
It's concerns floating: the states in-between in a relationship and not, between going home and going to a new place, between the decision of going and staying. For example, in "A House In Our Arms," the narrator contemplates his sexual friendship with his lesbian best friend, while at the same time, sleeping with a man. In "Tennesse" the narrator ends up back with his parents' broken home (his father's lost his job) after trying to find himself and failing. In "Weekend Away" a woman runs away from her current lover after recieving (and not answering) a call from a former boyfriend; when she comes back she tells him: "I know you don't like hearing it but it's true, that's what I was thinking. There are so many places I've never even seen....So why can't I let myself say yes?"
Taylor's world is a world of conflation as well. Violence and sexual desire are the same ("Jewels Flashing in the Night Time); there is a difference between sex with someone you love and someone you might love, but you're not going to do much about it--or there isn't much you can do about it ("Whistle Through Your Teeth and Spit"). What is probably most refreshing about Taylor's writing is that he is fearless when it comes to sex. Compared to the male writers in Katie Rophie's essay, Taylor is pornographer: writing about bisexuality, threesomes, and phone sex; he writes it viscerally and with feeling.
Of course, some might be turned off by this, as well as Taylor's possible use of bisexuality as a metaphor for general confusion, and some of his more experimental works--"Tetris" and "Finding Myself" are almost like prose poems, "Jewels Flashing in the Night Time" reminds me of Daniel Scott's "Fellow Feeling" (his only terrible story in his short story collection) but only slightly better done. Some of his stories also do what stories shouldn't (jumping point of view in "Whistle Through Your Teeth and Spit," as one example), but Taylor proves to be a skilled writer: he pulls it all off. He makes it work. He'll remind you of Carver and Gaitskill, only younger, and not a drunk (not yet anyway) or a prostitute (again, not yet).
At the end, I still hate Justin Taylor. He wrote the book I wanted to write, before I got it written, and he wrote it better than I could have. It is more than enough reason to hate Justin Taylor.