I read Brandon Taylor’s Real Life. It is a stunning book. I found it somewhat overwhelming because it was so clearly set at UW Madison and it brought me back to graduate school in such a visceral way. I miss shopping at Savers and trying out bikes at Goodwill and long runs by the lake and in the arb but I do not miss graduate school social life, not at all.
I’m happy to have read this novel in a year I’ve spent trying to feel feelings. It’s kinda what the novel’s about: the reality of feelings, even when denied or unexpressed. It’s about so much more of course–trauma, being a Black person in a white space, the toxicity of white feminism, the wonders of tennis, desire, science, labor, graduate school grossness. I really liked the tennis scenes and it reminded me that although I think of tennis as a new thing in my life, I did have weekly drop-in tennis for a stint in Madison and also would often play with my brother. It’s funny the things we forget.
I like that the novel doesn’t have a complete narrative arc or easy resolution. Just accumulation of experiences and shifting perspectives. And I love what it says about real life:
“Eventually, they are all just people going about their lives, shopping and eating, laughing and arguing, doing what people in the world do. This too is real life, he thinks. Not merely the accumulation of tasks, things to be done and sorted, but also the bumping up against other lives, everyone in the world insignificant when taken and observed together” (246).