Life is Pain, Highness: Filthy Animals by Brandon Taylor

All I can hear is The Dread Pirate Roberts in my head … “Anyone who says differently is selling something.”

And for Brandon Taylor, pain is high art.

Available in late June, “Filthy Animals” is Taylor’s followup to his Booker-nominated debut, “Real Life.” With this collection of short stories, he returns to Madison, or something like it, with several characters that are revisited throughout the book — Lionel, Charles and Sophie, and travels elsewhere to peek into the lives of others, including Hartjes, Alek, Nolan, Milton, Sigrid, Marta, Big Davis and Grace.

The thread that connects these stories is pain. And I think that is an important distinction. Because, should you choose to read this, you’ll also note a larger theme around sexuality. Taylor’s collection, like “Real Life,” feature characters coming to terms with their sexuality. Or someone else’s. But at its core, these stories are about the pain in humanity. Yes, pain in coming out. But also pain in the joy of discovering one’s true self. Or pain in the knowledge that life is fleeting. Pain in having to give up a dream. Pain internalized from abuse from long ago. Or even abuse in the moment.

It’s a lot of pain.

So why should you read this, you ask? Why read something that sounds like you are going to need a whole bunch of Vitamin D to get through? Because Brandon. Really, if you’ve read “Real Life” (and if you haven’t you should), then you’ll understand Taylor’s character development and his ability to write a sentence that pulls you into another’s world is bar none. I still miss Wallace and with this addition of Lionel, almost hope in some fictional coffee shop in this fictional Madison, these two men can connect and heal each other’s wounds. (Because, Lionel, Charles comes with baggage. Baggage!)

I want more to these stories. I want novels for almost all of them. I want to know Marta and Sigrid grow old together. I want Big Davis and his grandson to speak. I want to know if Alek is OK. And I want to know if Hartjes really XXXXXX Simon.

It’s funny, I am always hesitant to read a short story collection, as if I think I can’t get invested in the characters or that somehow I am being ripped off from a full-fledged novel. Filthy Animals is so much the opposite of that. Characters that wind their way into your psyche, packed with emotion, and just succinct enough that you can take a breath after some stories that are dark enough to have you questioning the human motive to connect with other humans.

Take note of this summer release and sink into a comfortable chair or porch swing and connect with Taylor’s people. Just fantastic writing. Don’t miss it.

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