Real Life


Annoyingly, I can't remember where I saw the recommendation for Brandon Taylor's Real Life, so I'm not sure why I was expecting something quite different. I thought I was going to read a gritty urban drama, but instead I found myself reading a campus novel, more like Sally Rooney or Diana Reid. However as Real Life progressed, issues of race and class came bubbling to the surface and indeed there were episodes of shocking violence.

Real Life follows a weekend in the life of Wallace, who like Taylor himself, works in the science department of a middle-sized university, where he is the only Black in his research section and the only Black in his group of friends. Wallace is uncertain of his academic vocation, finding himself constantly, subtly undermined by his colleagues and his supervisor, uncertain of his place the friendship group and uncertain of his place in the world. Escaping from his home turns out  to be not enough. (In 'real' real life, Taylor quit his science post to write this novel.)

Real Life reminded me of being in my early twenties, with days spent moving in a shifting pack of friends, from 'dinner thing' to brunch to work, to afternoon at the beach, from one friend's house to another, in a marsh of gossip and crushes and in-jokes, laughter and tension and secrets kept and told. For Wallace, these activities are always conducted, even among his closest friends, against a background hum of racism or at least race awareness. This is a novel of hurt young men who seem to feel compelled to hurt each other, bonded in mutual misery, and it's written with the miserable cynicism of youth that feels everything is hopeless and will never get better.

I hope Brandon Taylor's life has improved since he wrote this impressive debut novel and I'm interested to see what he does next.

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