A review by John Cook.
Brandon Taylor is something of an acquired taste with his preference for what I described in my reflection on his debut novel “Real Life” as ‘micro-examination of his characters’ motives and experiences’. He is, nevertheless, something of a literary darling selling well and obviously accepted by the BCC library with their 10 copies of this book. No, I am not at all sure, why this book is titled ‘Filthy Animals’ though there is an expected mix of human behaviours, good and bad.
The location is somewhat vague but seems like his previous title in a Mid-American town where science, mathematics, education, and the arts are present and important in his characters’ lives and prospects. Once again, there are several strands represented by individuals with different orientations or interests which eventually intersect as each chapter explores one direction while gradually revealing connections. This can be rather confusing initially until the reader becomes aware of some central issues which, on this occasion, are not heavily racially oriented.
The Wallace of the previous novel is replaced by a markedly insecure Lionel who is still working his way out of a suicide attempt and has returned to his academic environment somewhat reduced as he is given the task of proctoring exams, hardly a whole-hearted ‘welcome back’. He is also linked to the world of professional dance (ballet) which I found quite interesting as there is a long history of dance-related themes involving careerism, injury, and opportunity, all present here. I was quite prepared to pursue the storylines involving the doctor’s office visits over dance injury and a strangely dangerous pernicious coughing but ended up disappointed.
Out of this strand comes a pair of dancers living in an open relationship which permits Lionel to explore his gay orientation with Charles while Sophie in her distant yet interfering manner seems almost to encourage this with the unfeeling manner of a boy pulling the wings off an insect. She is a truly unlikeable character.
The novel is presented as a series of separate stories each with their own titles. I found it almost a feeling of hope as each opened with the prospect of something perhaps altogether new and engaging. All too often, it simply didn’t happen though some were definitely more interesting than others, especially when Christianity was invoked.
It seems to be a characteristic of Taylor’s storytelling that we are never sure of our feelings or responses to the behaviour of characters as they seem to flip-flop or gradually segue in their interest and attractiveness from time to time.
As I said at the beginning of these notes, the micro-examination of thoughts and motives persist here alongside some elegant writing of place and even the sex, though not as focused as in ‘Real Life. This, for me constantly pulls me in two directions. At times, it is fascinating and enlightening but, just as often it is exhausting, off-putting, and begs for speed reading.
There is still here a lot to recommend this second offering. Some may find the indecision and lack of direction worthy of attention but I felt it needed more focus and at least a bit more completion to satisfy this reader.
BCC Library has 10 copies