Read an extract from Real Life by Brandon Taylor
Foyles Fiction Book of the Year 2020
Real Life is the incredible debut novel from US writer and editor Brandon Taylor—a taut, elegant story of desire and detachment that thrums with energy as it circles closer toward its violent conclusion. Garnering rave reviews on both sides of the Atlantic and selected for the 2020 Booker Prize shortlist, Real Life also claimed the title of the Foyles Fiction Book of the Year 2020, and here you can read an extract taken from the beginning of the novel.
It was a cool evening in late summer when Wallace, his father dead for several weeks, decided that he would meet his friends at the pier after all. The lake was dimpled with white waves. People coveted these last, blustery days of summer before the weather turned cold and mercurial. The air was heavy with their good times as the white people scattered across the tiered patios, pried their mouths apart and beamed their laughter into each other’s faces. Overhead, gulls drifted easy as anything.
Wallace stood on an upper platform looking down into the scrum, trying to find his particular group of white people, thinking also that it was still possible to turn back, that he could go home and get on with his evening. It had been a couple years since he had gone to the lake with his friends, a period of time that embarrassed him because it seemed to demand an excuse and he did not have one. It might have had something to do with the crowds, the insistence of other people’s bodies, the way the birds circled overhead, then dive-bombed the tables to grab food or root around at their feet, as though even they were socializing. Threats from every corner. There was also the matter of the noise, the desperate braying of everyone talking over everyone else, the bad music, the children and dogs, the radios from the frats down the lakeshore, the car stereos in the streets, the shouting mass of hundreds of lives disagreeing.
The noise demanded vague and strange things from Wallace.
There, among the burgundy wooden tables nearest the lake, Wallace saw the four of them. Or, no, more specifically, he saw Miller, who was extraordinarily tall, the easiest to spot. Then Yngve and Cole, who were merely tall, and then Vincent, who just scraped under the bar of average height. Miller, Yngve, and Cole looked like a trio of pale, upright deer, like they belonged to their own particular species, and you could be forgiven, if you were in a hurry, for thinking them related. Like Wallace and their other friends, they had all come to this Midwestern city to pursue graduate studies in biochemistry. Their class had been the first small one in quite some time, and the first in more than three decades to include a black person. In his less generous moments, Wallace thought these two things related, that there had been a narrowing, a reduction in the number of applicants, that had made his admission possible.
Wallace was on the verge of turning back – he was uncertain if the company of other people, which just a short time ago had seemed somehow necessary, was something he could bear – when Cole looked up and spotted him. Cole started to flail his arms about, as if he were trying to elongate himself to ensure that Wallace could see him, though it must have been obvious that Wallace was looking directly at them. There was no turning back after all. Wallace waved to them.
It was Friday.
Wallace went down the half-rotten stairs and came closer to the dense algal stink of the lake. He followed the curving wall, passed the hulls of the boats, passed where the dark stones jutted out of the water, passed the long pier that stretched out into the water, and people there too, laughing, and as he walked, he glanced out over the vast, green water of the lake itself, boats skimming its surface, their sails white and sure against the wind and the low, wide sky.
It was perfect.
It was beautiful.
It was just another evening in late summer.
Brandon Taylor is the author of the novel Real Life and the forthcoming short story collection Filthy Animals. The senior editor of Electric Literature’s Recommended Reading and a staff writer at Lit Hub, he holds graduate degrees from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and the University of Iowa, where he was an Iowa Arts Fellow at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop in fiction.