Real Life

Real Life

Book - 2020
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A FINALIST for the Booker Prize, the National Book Critics Circle John Leonard Prize, the VCU/Cabell First Novelist Prize, the Lambda Literary Award, the NYPL Young Lions Award, and the Edmund White Debut Fiction Award

"A blistering coming of age story" -- O: The Oprah Magazine

Named a Best Book of the Year by The New York Times , The Washington Post , New York Public Library, Vanity Fair, Elle , NPR, The Guardian , The Paris Review, Harper's Bazaar , Financial Times , Huffington Post, BBC, Shondaland, Barnes & Noble, Vulture , Thrillist , Vice , Self , Electric Literature, and Shelf Awareness

A novel of startling intimacy, violence, and mercy among friends in a Midwestern university town, from an electric new voice.

Almost everything about Wallace is at odds with the Midwestern university town where he is working uneasily toward a biochem degree. An introverted young man from Alabama, black and queer, he has left behind his family without escaping the long shadows of his childhood. For reasons of self-preservation, Wallace has enforced a wary distance even within his own circle of friends--some dating each other, some dating women, some feigning straightness. But over the course of a late-summer weekend, a series of confrontations with colleagues, and an unexpected encounter with an ostensibly straight, white classmate, conspire to fracture his defenses while exposing long-hidden currents of hostility and desire within their community.

Real Life is a novel of profound and lacerating power, a story that asks if it's ever really possible to overcome our private wounds, and at what cost.
Publisher: New York : Riverhead Books, [2020]
ISBN: 9780525538882
Branch Call Number: TAYLOR B
Characteristics: 327 pages ; 22 cm


From Library Staff

This beautifully written #ownvoices debut novel about black, gay doctoral student a midwestern university brought me out of my pandemic reading slump. Highly recommended. -William, Cataloging and Collection Development Coordinator

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Mar 25, 2021

Good Reads recommendation

Jan 25, 2021

Had high hopes for this book after I’d seen lots of praise for it. I was sorely disappointed. The first chapter was grindingly boring with detailed descriptions of the protagonist’s lab work. I’d hoped the rest of the book would be about how he came to discover real life, but no. While there are some beautiful phrases, the dialogue is stilted and mostly consists of characters blaming each other for things, asking each other to stay or go. Many pages which seemed to consist of mostly, “it's fine,” “I’m o.k.” “I get it,” and on and on. There’s an endless description of a tennis game and everyone is identified by how they smell. I know I’m not in the demographic for this book but I was bothered by Wallace’s relationship with his friend, Miller, who “isn’t into guys.” They hook up and most of the encounters seem more like assault. One short chapter, written in the first person, explains Wallace’s history of being abused but it doesn’t make up for the rest of the book.

JCLJenV Dec 22, 2020

Well written book with a main character I didn’t really like; incredibly introspective - almost too much so...

Nov 21, 2020

Short listed booker prize

Nov 14, 2020

Shortlisted for the Booker Prize; Taylor's debut novel for me is uneven, with insightful and smartly written passages intermixed with overwritten duds that could have benefited from an editor's strikethroughs and a well drawn central character (sharing strong biographical similarities with the author) surrounded by weaker secondary characters - perhaps the ingredients of a talented writer's debut novel, then.

Wallace is nearing completion of graduate school in biochemistry but is unhappy, seemingly resigned to feelings of alienation and otherness. Over a weekend in the present day, with bits of his past parceled out as the story moves along, his reasons become clear. Black, poor, and gay, Wallace had left rural Alabama for grad school in the Midwest with high hopes for the new life opening up before him, which many a student can relate to.

The reality was disillusioning. The only black student in his program, Wallace experiences the bigotry of low expectations from his program head, his fellow students, even his (mostly) well-meaning group of friends. Naturally introverted, he withdrew into himself, but he is now shaken up on the one hand by an unexpected and explosive romantic relationship with one fellow student, and on the other by a long running animosity directed his way from another student blowing up and calling his desire to remain in grad school into question. Thrown off balance, he is forced to consider what he actually wants, and how his personal history affects how he interacts with others. No final answer is forthcoming in these pages - it is about the dawning of this awareness.

Taylor writes searingly of the near constant background radiation of racist attitudes in which Wallace has to swim alone. Moments that are skipped over or given a mere awkward brief notice by his white friends are unforgettable dispiriting hurts to Wallace, and they accumulate:

"Emma puts her head on Wallace's shoulder, but she won't say anything either, can't bring herself to. No one does. No one ever does. Silence is their way of getting by, because if they are silent long enough, then this moment of minor discomfort will pass for them, will fold down into the landscape of the evening as if it never happened. Only Wallace will remember it. That's the frustrating part. Wallace is the only one for whom this is a humiliation."

Taylor also writes convincingly of why people seem existentially driven to pair up, to join their life with another's:

"This is perhaps why people get together in the first place. The sharing of time. The sharing of the responsibility of anchoring oneself in the world. Life is less terrible when you can just rest for a moment, put everything down and wait without having to worry about being washed away. People take each other's hands and they hold on as tight as they can, they hold on to each other and to themselves, and when they let go, they can because they know that the other person will not."

These gems fight for attention in the novel with overdrawn scenes, like a game of tennis in which we learn far too much about Wallace's strengths and weaknesses on the tennis court, and with distractingly over-detailed writing, such as - and this is just pulled from near the end of the book because I just read it and it's the most recent example in my mind - "Wallace fries the fish quickly, turning each piece just as it begins to brown so that it is crispy but not dry or burned." I mean, just say "Wallace fries the fish quickly" and end it!

In sum, a timely novel with some real strong points that Taylor will likely surpass with later novels.

Sep 01, 2020

Real Life is a wonderful read. It teaches us a lot about who we are and how we are all different. A very clear story line with fascinating characters. It certainly made me appreciate what I have in this REAL LIFE of mine.

CALS_Shelby Apr 22, 2020

There is a lot to learn from this book & even more to love (among other things, it's gorgeously written) but what I loved the most is the way it made space for the strange & lonely limbo one finds oneself in when one's grief doesn't line up with people's expectations. This book reaches out its hand and assures you you aren't alone.

Feb 03, 2020

naomi's friend


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Mar 14, 2021

It feels impossible in the way only possible tasks can seem, when you know that despite the scale of what you must do, it's not really beyond the realm of possibility to do it, and so it feels impossible because you know you must.

Sep 14, 2020

The most unfair part of it, Wallace thinks, is that when you tell white people that something is racist, they hold it up to the light and try to discern if you are telling the truth. As if they can tell by the grain if something is racist or not, and they always trust their own judgement. It’s unfair because white people have a vested interest in underestimating racism, its amount, its intensity, its shape, its effects. They are the fox in the henhouse.


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