Real Life by Brandon Taylor

February 25, 2020 – The New Yorker

“REAL LIFE” IS A NEW KIND OF CAMPUS NOVEL

 

“Condescension of this kind recurs throughout “Real Life,” a campus novel imagined from the vantage of a character who is usually shunted to the sidelines. Taylor’s début shadows Wallace, a gay black student from a small town in Alabama, through a series of personal and professional skirmishes that complicate the last weekend before his fourth year of graduate school. When the book opens, Wallace is pondering whether he ought to leave his university and the predominantly white, Midwestern town that houses it. The loss of his nematodes is the second death that is introduced in the opening pages. Taylor relegates the first to a numb aside: Wallace’s father has just died. His decision to skip the funeral scandalizes his breezy white friends—one of whom, a histrionic Swede, spent the summer before graduate school summiting a mountain to mourn the death of his grandfather. “It was your dad,” another friend reminds Wallace, as though he does not remember. Wallace seems to like these people—perhaps most of all Miller, a surly, mercurial scientist, and the quietest in their group—but none of them manages to comprehend the “curious shape of his grief, which does not bear the typical dimensions.” Wallace holds his friends at a remove, leaving unexplained the childhood trauma that has predisposed him to introversion and distanced him from his family in the first place.”

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