Through the simplicity of life comes an unsaid urgency to embrace the mundane. In novel-writing, there tends to be a large expectation to follow Freytag’s Pyramid in order to tell a story. As exciting as it seems to have a rise into climax followed by a falling action steering into resolved territory, documenting interpersonal lives in the fictional world does not always follow this path. Novels like Virginia Woolf’s “To The Lighthouse” serve as an example: readers take on the role as spectator over many lives, all of their thoughts and emotions existing within a moment that feels real. There’s dimension, and soon the shape of life begins to form with each passage printed on paper.
Much like his other novel “Real Life” and his collection of short stories “Filthy Animals”, Booker Prize finalist Brandon Taylor executes the same tactic in his new novel, “The Late Americans”. Taking place in spaces in Iowa, Taylor introduces us to the lives that exist within the territory. An accumulation of writers, artists, lovers, and friends who occupy different corners of life and experiences all intersect within the pages.
The novel travels from one perspective to the other, crossing wires of characters who are connected one way or another. Taylor interweaves life’s occurrences, personal struggles, and thoughts on different backgrounds, but what unites them is how you dive into a life where any outcome is possible. Powered by sexual encounters, chosen family dynamics, and life decisions that come off the heels of their pursuits, we witness characters who closely resemble the adults in our own lives, even ourselves: those of us who continue to uncover parts of the self that somehow fit into the social environments we find ourselves rooted in.
Taylor presents these experiences in a slow burn, but that is where the best essence of the novel lies. It is not the speed of the novel that determines its quality, but the attention to detail, the entertaining observations over these characters and the environment they inhabit.
“The Late Americans” is a novel built with layers of individuals – of many identities – that exist within Iowa. Reading the novel is like witnessing different episodes of an anthology series that connects one character to another. To visualize it is like seeing a red thread that intertwines with one passing character to another, giving shape for each and every life, taking on an impressive dimension. The novel breathes with queer lives that feel ultimately relatable, reminding us that no one has this whole “life” thing figured out. That’s okay! There is no right way to be human, and in finding ourselves through this mess we eventually discover our most authentic selves, one way or another.
Brandon Taylor’s latest novel is due to land in bookstores May 23. An early copy was requested from the publishing house for review.