In the shared and private spaces of Iowa City, a loose circle of lovers and friends encounter, confront, and provoke one another in a volatile year of self-discovery. Among them are Seamus, a frustrated young poet; Ivan, a dancer turned aspiring banker who dabbles in amateur pornography; Fatima, whose independence and work ethic complicate her relationships with friends and a trusted mentor; and Noah, who "didn't seek sex out so much as it came up to him like an anxious dog in need of affection." These four are buffeted by a cast of artists, landlords, meatpacking workers, and mathematicians who populate the cafes, classrooms, and food-service kitchens of the city, sometimes to violent and electrifying consequence. Finally, as each prepares for an uncertain future, the group heads to a cabin to bid goodbye to their former lives—a moment of reckoning that leaves each of them irrevocably altered.
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.