Taylor’s characters are preoccupied with work, sex, and friendship. History trickles through their lives and conversations, but their minds are elsewhere. This sense of the self as an ahistorical individual might broadly distinguish the American consciousness ... An ensemble piece, no more or less novelistic than Taylor’s linked story collection, and it revisits similar emotional terrain with compassion and precision ... He has a Chekhovian generosity that enables him to convey character with something like tenderness ... Taylor’s vision is unsparing, but never bleak.
Brandon Taylor’s best book so far. More mature than his Booker-nominated debut, Real Life, more polished than Filthy Animals, his third is a novel about the anxieties and pieties of millennial grad students as they grapple with the art life and, more literally, each other. Taylor asks the big questions ... Taylor’s characters, with their highly attuned political-structural constitutions, can be exhilarating or exhausting, depending on taste ... Elegiac ... Beautiful and wrenching.
Bruising, brilliant ... Campus novels and starving-artist stories aren’t uncommon. But Taylor...observes this milieu with fresh eyes, exploring how the social, sexual and creative threads in his characters’ lives interweave or snag ... He writes about sex beautifully, how it fuels everyone’s egos and reveals their anxieties ... Taylor’s considerations of all this occasionally lapse into easy tropes or cliché ... Taylor has at once deepened and moved beyond the traditional campus novels.
Taylor deftly explores the myth of youth's unbound possibilities as it plays out in the face of constraints of time, space, class and wealth disparities by vividly illustrating the intersecting lives of University of Iowa students pursuing master degrees ... While Taylor's characters can be openly cruel to their friends or partners, their unwillingness to be emotionally transparent is not so different from the decorous, convoluted behavior of Gilded Age protagonists. At the same time, the characters constantly strive to become better versions of themselves by embracing an ideal of passionate empathy that goes beyond pity or kindness, by striving to plumb the dark, even unspeakable parts of themselves. In this sense, Taylor seems both more hopeful, and yet more pragmatic than F. Scott Fitzgerald. Many of his characters are not pursuing the green light at the end of Daisy's dock, but the arduous, Sisyphean climb of self-knowledge.
A flow chart would be handy to keep track of all the overlapping relationships, career changes and ethnicities here ... Suffused with nihilism: a sense of a society nearing its end ... Taylor has written a bleak book with flashes of beauty, circling a hothouse of young people on the brink of transplantation into the harsh outside world. His ear for dialogue is exquisitely sensitive. Even if he calls it a novel, I hope he’s working on a play.
The Late Americans is a smart, sexually-explicit and cynical novel about young people striving or, sometimes 'just' surviving, but don't look for a big take-away about the American Dream in Taylor's deliberately fragmented storyline. His characters are so beyond embracing that age-old American ideal of social mobility.
A novel that is really a linked short story ... It’s easy to get the characters...mixed up, and there isn’t much in the way of a plot ... Taylor’s characters are idling in life’s antechamber, giving up on dance careers that have petered out at the limits of their talents, or resigning themselves to teaching in fields where they once hoped to make a mark ... [A] lack of humor ... Taylor is a beguiling writer, but the best of his voice is seldom found in his fiction, with its heavy cloak of figurative language.
The young people of The Late Americans, which is set in and around the University of Iowa, have something spiky and wounded about them ... Though it’s called a novel, this book works like a series of linked stories. Seamus gets the most pages, but he is only one of many moons and satellites—a whirling collection of students, friends, rivals and lovers—who orbit the Iowa campus and each other ... Like a voyeuristic astronomer, the reader tracks their courses with guilty fascination, waiting to see who betrays whom, and how; and wondering how each impact might affect the trajectory of the individual, or of the group ... Mr. Taylor’s Iowa artists, dancers, and writers demonstrate that, although the risk of the artistic gambit may not have lessened since Gissing’s heyday, new freedoms have broadened their agency.
Full of this enveloping cleverness, a winning combination of caustic observation and pleasurable mischief-making ... Taylor delineates them all swiftly and finely, in this sweeping portrait of young Americans striving to make art in an age of late capitalism ... This balance — between the critique of art and the thrill of it — is the novel’s real miracle ... The Late Americans is remarkable. If you’re going to write about art, the folly of pursuing it and the irrefutable power of it, you should probably do it well. Taylor does it truthfully and beautifully.
While the rotation of narrators and varied specifics of why each relationship in the web is failing may be dizzying at times, it’s ultimately within the mess where Taylor is most successful. If there is a universal truth that Taylor asserts, it’s misunderstanding ... Taylor pulls back the curtain with each subsequent narration, elevating individual histories and providing personal context. There are absent parents, debilitating injuries, and the loss of relatives in these characters’ backgrounds. As readers, we understand that they’re all making sense of the world through the lens afforded to them; though we remain bitterly exhausted by their bickering ... We sit, enthralled by Taylor’s prose and immersed in his character’s stories, witnesses to the complexity of truth and its resistance against objectivity. We are offered, our gaze peering in from above, perspective. There are sides to take and stances to claim—but no villains. There can’t be.
Elegant and restrained ... Part of the project of this novel is to turn the readers into God, showing us the automated movements of Taylor’s late American characters as they glide precisely along their clockwork tracks, worrying about money and having sex and making art. In creating that kaleidoscopic, panoramic view, it succeeds — but it sometimes falters on the details ... These characters all talk in the same ways. They have different thoughts, but they express their thoughts in the same kind of language, using the same kind of framework. They blur together. Taylor is at his strongest with his most isolated characters ... Already, though, it’s become hard for me to remember which character had that fantasy, or which of Taylor’s books I read it in. I closed this book craving something distinct that I never found.
At first, the story seems like a sendup of campus cancel culture until Seamus meets Bert, a sinister, down-on-his-luck townie ... A worthy addition to the genre [of campus novels], not because anything much happens but rather because Taylor is indeed a beautiful writer. His tautly constructed sentences are as concrete and vivid as the poems that the hapless Seamus adores.
While the campus novel has a long tradition of airing the foibles of academia, Taylor's critique goes deeper. And darker ... When describing skilled labor, Taylor's prose grows luminous ... We drift almost plotlessly between potlucks and hookups involving a diverse cast of less-engaging twentysomethings ... Discussions dilute rather than strengthen any through-line promised at the novel's outset. So much hostility. So much hopelessness and self-loathing.
The stakes in Brandon Taylor’s fiction are always high – strikingly so, given these are campus novels ... A more ambitious, nimbly diffuse novel, moving between a large cast of characters, mainly gay graduate students of dance or creative writing. The campus setting enables the creation of basically similar people who define themselves by difference ... Baggier than Cusk’s Outline and baggier than Taylor’s own Real Life. It’s a less entirely resolved read than either of them, but for me, this book assures and deepens Taylor’s position as one of the most accomplished, important novelists of his generation. He is undoubtedly on to something expansively new in his sense of what the contemporary novel can do.
The half-dozen or so principal characters in The Late Americans have plenty of overlap – it’s hard to tell them apart without a little mental effort ... With these rather overpitched incidents Taylor is either exploring the pathological oversensitivity shared by two of his characters or revealing a need to amp up the quotient of drama beyond a generalized uneasiness ... the oddity of The Late Americans is that each constituent part seems to be secondary. The characters aren’t jostling for centrality but hanging back from it, so that there’s no distinction between major and minor figures. Everyone’s status is intermediate ... It might be possible, with effort, to read The Late Americans as a satire on a gay generation dependent on electronic media, unaware of anything that has led up to the present cultural moment...The tone doesn’t match up, however. This is recessive irony, the equivalent of a recessive gene, carried by the material but not expressed in it ... There’s no real possibility that The Late Americans is inviting harsh judgment of its half-dozen or so aspiring gay male characters, but it’s a backhanded compliment to the underlying strength of Taylor’s talent that the book can be read so fiercely against the grain without being nullified in the process. Construction is what lets it down, with the circling point of view, problematic in itself, jettisoned towards the end ... You can’t make much of a master of ceremonies if you arrive late to the party, bringing a speech that would fit any occasion.
There’s more than a whiff in this piss-take of MFA culture of a former creative writing graduate unloading a degree’s worth of beef (you suspect that a small portion of the book’s audience may be reading the workshop scenes very attentively indeed). But the literary send-up is just a springboard for a broader exploration of education, economics and desire ... Real Life drew power from putting us in the headspace of a single character at odds with his milieu. Nothing in The Late Americans matches the dramatic interest of that book; the basic but unignorable problem is that the characters are simply too inert. Dialogue boils down to passive-aggressive squabbles that circle unvoiced emotion, a tension-generating strategy dulled through overuse. It hardly helps that the novel itself keeps insisting how irrelevant everything is ... That worn-down register is really a literary humblebrag, asserting modesty while ludicrously laying claim to a cosmic vantage point. Throughout, Taylor’s cadences lunge for high-literary heft...The tone is exhausting ... There’s no sign of the sense of humour that Real Life had in abundance...the overall effect resembles nothing so much as a dare to create character-driven fiction from austerely deprived means, as if draining the dregs of his theme before lighting out for new turf.
To read The Late Americans expecting a novel is to wonder, about halfway through, whether its connected stories are headed anywhere collectively. The short answer is, they aren’t. The better approach is to follow the lead of the characters – one of whom, in the final story, surrounded by friends, feels gratitude for the moment they are enjoying and tries not to worry too much about what is next ...
The promotional material for Brandon Taylor’s The Late Americans, and the author’s acknowledgments, refer to this masterly, absorbing work as a novel, which does both the book and its readers a disservice. To read The Late Americans expecting a novel is to wonder, about halfway through, whether its connected stories are headed anywhere collectively. The short answer is, they aren’t. The better approach is to follow the lead of the characters – one of whom, in the final story, surrounded by friends, feels gratitude for the moment they are enjoying and tries not to worry too much about what is next.
The setting for all of the stories is Iowa City. Many among this multicultural group of characters, who are overwhelmingly young and male, and nearly all gay, are graduate humanities students at an unnamed institution that is clearly modelled on the University of Iowa (where Taylor received a graduate degree). The author of the celebrated Real Life (2020) and Filthy Animals (2021), Taylor here portrays a world in which actions and emotions are often not what they seem. In a wonderfully (and, alas, accurately) rendered writing workshop, narrow-mindedness and rigidity pass as sensitivity. For one anomalous character – a somewhat older townie who might be said, at the risk of understatement, to have anger issues – sexual acts are thinly disguised hostility. Indeed, for many of the characters, several of whom have slept with several of the others, sex often arises not from love, or even lust, but from any number of other things, including boredom, confusion, contrariness and – perhaps chiefly – desperation.
That desperation is often economic. Brandon’s title brings to mind late-stage capitalism and its attendant evils, and while race does not appear to erect barriers between the characters – who form attachments across colour lines – money and class worm their way into the most intimate relationships. One young man, feeling financially beholden to his volatile partner and badly needing cash of his own, resorts to making porn videos; the bone of contention between another couple is the professional man’s moral objection to his blue-collar partner’s job at a meat-processing plant – while the partner, seeing few options for himself, insists “This is what my life is”; a young dancer feels looked down on by others on her course because she must work in a café and cannot devote every waking minute to dance. The book’s title may also allude to these young people’s late arrival at the party. They have been born in an America that cares little for their aspirations – a nation that presents opportunity commensurate with one’s (or one’s parents’) bank account, that has outlasted its promises of freedom and equality, or, perhaps more accurately, has finally dropped the pretence.
This book’s great strength is its close third-person expression of characters’ insights into their own lives and, especially, those of other characters ... One curious aspect of The Late Americans is that, to the extent that it depicts a core group of characters, the most compelling figures are at its periphery; they are the ones whose struggles are as much internal as external, concerned as much with their sense of who they are as with their efforts to make it in the world. ...Yet, in their marginality within the world of the book, the two are also representative figures of the real world Brandon Taylor seeks to reflect.
Throughout the novel, Taylor explicitly engages with his grand themes of money, power, class, race and consumption (of sex, art, meat) ... The sex writing is notably strong: no clumsy shift in register, unflinchingly explicit yet always in the service of story and character ... There are good things here, too, but the poise of the opening stories starts to droop. The second half of the book is concerned with a posse of dance students and their overlapping lovers. These characters are dimly seen in comparison to Seamus, Fyodor and Ivan ... Claustrophobia sets in after all. Connections between chapters feel forced, and at points I suspected that certain stories had been retrofitted to meet the novel’s criteria. Towards the end, Taylor leans too hard on his themes, like a sweaty chef desperately adding more cornflour to gravy that just won’t thicken. Compared to two recent, superlative examples of novels-in-stories — Bernardine Evaristo’s Girl, Woman, Other and David Szalay’s All That Man Is, The Late Americans is not a success. The first two stories are worth your time — but don’t rave to your friends about the novel until you’ve made it to the last page.
An insightful and razor-sharp portrait of the interconnected lives of a cohort of writers, dancers, and thinkers living in the contemporary American Midwest ... Demonstrates a nuanced understanding of not only individual characters but the social worlds that tie them inextricably together. The interlinked story structure plays well to this strength of Taylor and highlights the complexity of such social dynamics ... A splendidly wrought and emotionally engrossing novel consisting of linked character portraits, The Late Americans continues to cement Brandon Taylor as a standout literary voice.
Lacks a central character; instead, the story flows from one character or pair to the next, leaving the reader to make connections and hold onto each person’s secrets and dreams ... A thought-provoking and lyrical novel about a group of people on the precipice of change, The Late Americans is a perceptive look at passion, sacrifice and intimacy among friends.
Taylor... [rotates] through a kaleidoscope of characters who may not earn your sympathies but deserve them nonetheless. It’s an artful novel of human hurt, and every character has dignity despite what they may believe about themselves and project onto others.
Taylor...once again demonstrates his aptitude for vernacular. In this novel, he crafts with language related to several disparate fields ... In The Late Americans, Taylor again proves himself to be a master of microcosm. He manages to pull together Black, biracial, white, white-passing, queer, straight and questioning, the monied and the impoverished. What emerges is a work that is driven by diverse philosophies but held together by people.
Taylor makes it difficult to care about their under-represented voices because The Late Americans resembles a collection of linked stories, a non-commercial form that diminishes readers’ engagement with necessarily somewhat underdeveloped characters. Every artist faces rejection. Taylor’s publishing strategy seems to be abjection, narrowing his audience, flattening his characters, employing an uncongenial form. And yet here he is a success ... has so many thinly developed characters that the reader needs, as at ballparks before electronic scoreboards, a program to keep the players straight ... Great fiction has been and can be written about compulsion—but not by collecting, as Taylor does, a bunch of characters who have the same compulsion. While establishing the presence of Blacks and gays and gay Blacks as a visible minority, Taylor sacrifices depth for breadth, eschews psychology for biology, and, in a way, plays into the racial and sexual stereotypes you might think that he would hate.
The Late Americans is a prime example of the kind of novel that doesn’t do very novelish things (Sally Rooney writes them too). There is little in the way of plot to hold it together. Instead, the tender, elegant prose combines with sound structural unity to make it work ... Connection is fleeting, and what persists is instability; even in contentment their differences threaten to take it away. They are too late, in some ways, even for their own happiness. Our best hope, according to this novel, is to cherish moments of connection even as they disappear before us.
Taylor is excellent at scrutinising societal malaise, class and financial inequity and crystallising the toxic relationship between commerce and art. He is adept at illuminating with grace how political the personal actually is, with an unflinching determination to find the truth, however ugly or beautiful ... Taylor’s authorial voice is strong, and the grand design of his novel is carefully orchestrated. At times, however, the diversity of his characterisation is weakened by the similarity of tone throughout and this makes it increasingly hard to distinguish between all the players. Nonetheless, there is an embarrassment of riches here in terms of zeitgeist deconstruction, identity construction and the mobilisation of artistic impulse. Taylor asks who gets to make art, and why. And he isn’t afraid to tell us the answer.
So much could be a recipe for the worst kind of book, preachy and entirely in thrall to the navel-gazing obsession with racial and sexual identities that blights so many American campuses. Yet Taylor is a more intelligent and ambivalent writer than that would suggest. He holds his characters to a high standard of truthfulness, and his own authorial sympathies turn out to be more evenly divided between the characters than they first seem ... These are the sentences of a writer whose knowledge of the world hasn’t come entirely from books. The Real Americans knows something about people, what they spend most of their days doing. It mocks its characters for their delusions about the world and themselves, but it does not mock their aspiration to make something true and beautiful. It takes them seriously, without taking them at their own estimation.
It’s a risky approach to novel writing. But Taylor has a tight grasp on the millennial psyche, the cruel, slippery and tender nature of human interaction, and the fragility of modern existence. It’s with these themes that he ties together seemingly disparate threads ... has more bite than his previous work. Set in Iowa City, the hallowed ground of Iowa’s Writing Workshop (where Taylor studied himself), the novel clamps its teeth into the absurdity of contemporary discourse surrounding class, race, sexuality and art ... Preventing things from slipping into bleakness is Taylor’s wit and a gentle sense of mockery. In a way, the characters in The Late Americans represent the stereotypically entitled millennial – deeply selfish and heavily weighted down by their own ennui. Taylor wants us to laugh at them. He wants us to roll our eyes. Many of Taylor’s readers will know people like these characters – indeed, many of them will feel as if they are the people in this novel. You might be laughing, but only because what The Late Americans is showing us happens to be despairingly true.
To read The Late Americans is an intensely intimate experience. It’s not just the sex. (So often in fiction, characters are clumsily harnessed to their bodies; it seems authors would prefer humans were floating vessels of thought and dialogue. Taylor’s late Americans are delightfully burdened by their bodies and desires.) Sex abounds, mostly between men, at times transactional, threatening, make-up, or mundane. Rather, it’s the little cruelties that the characters zip at each other, the fears they can hardly admit to themselves, the palpable loneliness among so many of them ... Despite how abject some of its characters are, how bad they accidentally hurt each other and how purposefully they sometimes do it, The Late Americans is an oddly comforting novel. If its characters are straining to be seen, Taylor sees them ... Some are about to fail, some are about to become very rich. Some are never going to see each other again. But for now they are together, burning and brilliant.
Taylor writes feelings and physical interactions with a kind of sixth sense, creating scenes readers will visualize with ease. At the beginning and ending of things and in confronting gradations of sex, power, and class, ambivalence pervades. Lovers of character studies and fine writing will enjoy getting lost in this.
Complicated and unhappy relationships and sex that seems more like a reflex than a choice are the main motifs throughout much of the novel. Some readers might see the introduction of a new point-of-view character on Page 231 as a fresh start. Other readers might just give up. Lots of characters. Not a lot of depth.