In the series of linked stories at the heart of Filthy Animals, set among young creatives in the American Midwest, a young man treads delicate emotional waters as he navigates a series of sexually fraught encounters with two dancers in an open relationship, forcing him to weigh his vulnerabilities against his loneliness. In other stories, a young woman battles with cancer; menacing undercurrents among a group of teenagers explode in violence; a little girl tears through a house like a tornado, driving her babysitter to the brink; and couples feel out the jagged edges of connection, comfort, and cruelty.
Whether Brandon Taylor knows it or not, in Filthy Animals he’s provided a perfect companion piece for our nervous era of reopening. Following the success of his much-lauded debut novel, Real Life, Taylor’s first story collection presents sumptuous, melancholic portraits of characters overwhelmed ... stories that range from stellar to pretty good (I’m not sure Taylor is capable of 'bad' writing) ... Taken as a whole, the book is a study in rogue appetites, and though the connected story line holds the most gems — and benefits greatly from the same attention to structure that Taylor brought to “Real Life” — the others are not to be missed ... shines here, in the dirt ... Taylor has a talent for taking the dull hum of quotidian life and converting it into lyrics ... These intimacies, often cozy, pair splendidly with the uglier, more brutal elements to establish the book’s focus: the feral that lurks under the veneer, the unspoken impulses that can lead people to contort themselves into gruesome shapes ... These doses of ferocity add much to the experience of the tamer stories ... highlights another strength of the collection: its handling of queerness, particularly in its physical manifestations. It’s notable for an author of Taylor’s caliber to depict so unflinchingly these unsanitized queer hookups ... Appalling decisions, squirm-inducing acts of aggression and, throughout, demons lurking in the shadows: Filthy Animals makes human contact seem like a thrilling horror story. As such, it speaks to both the anxiety and allure of 'getting back out there.'
[An] impressive first collection ... Although each of the stories here can be read as a stand-alone work, over half of them are perhaps best described as chapters of a novella-length piece ... the cloistered world of student life offers Taylor the perfect canvas for the emotionally charged interplay between an insular cast. Most significantly though, these stories provide further evidence that intimacy is Taylor’s great subject ... moments of connection that pepper these stories feel so miraculous. But welcoming relief involves acknowledging the true depth of the void that’s been filled ... Taylor also dares to show us how violence can be an act of terrible intimacy.
[Taylor] is on arguably even more glistening form in his follow up ... together paint a portrait of generational estrangement in ways that, while different in almost every way, put one in mind of early Bret Easton Ellis ... Taylor is a far more careful, sensitive and probing writer than Ellis, though, and his prose quivers with an emotional hyper-vigilance that at times almost feels alive ... Self-loathing, confusion, the sheer intractable reality of the physical self that must always be negotiated: Taylor handles his theme with rare grace and compassion. Filthy Animals also feels determinedly less political than Real Life, which was pointedly a novel about race and sexuality; here the concerns of his characters, which include a young woman 'who has blown up her life' and two men hesitantly trying to establish the contours of their relationship, are less ideological than existential. Still, while this collection contains several stories with female protagonists, I’d argue Taylor is better at writing about young men, trying to find their place in a world that has such defined ideas about what men should be ... He’s also extraordinarily good on the irresolute nature of desire.