“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.”
One sign of a truly great book is that when you finish reading it, the book doesn’t end. You obsess over it. For me, that book was Brandon Taylor’s debut novel REAL LIFE. I keep thinking about the characters, re-reading sections, wrestling with the story. REAL LIFE is more powerful and important than I can begin to convey.
The heart of REAL LIFE is Wallace: a Black, gay man working on his graduate degree in biochemistry at a Midwestern university. Taking place over one summer weekend, the story is a glimpse into the experiences of being Black and queer in predominantly white spaces and provides an exploration of racism, trauma, loneliness, and queer desire.
A series of aggressions are depicted throughout the story: some are intentional physical and mental attacks and others are subconscious microaggressions. All the assaults are painful for Wallace. Whether it’s at work dealing with the entitlement of his white colleagues or at a truly torturous dinner party with his friends from his program, the racism Wallace experiences forces him to question his belonging in his graduate program, in his friend group, and in this world.
REAL LIFE is written with intimate prose and the characters have nuance and complexity. Particularly Wallace is an expertly crafted character: we sympathize with him but also witness his flaws and destructive habits that make him more relatable and realistic.
Like real life, REAL LIFE can be uncomfortable and shocking but the topics it addresses are so essential. With the growing fight against police brutality and white supremacy with the Black Lives Matter movement, REAL LIFE’s portrayal of the Black, queer lived experience and the intersectionality of racism and sexuality is a MUST READ for every person.
Bravo Brandon Taylor for writing a modern masterpiece!
- Title: Real Life
- Author: Brandon Taylor
- Published: February 18, 2020 (Riverhead Books)
- Genre: Fiction, LGBTQ, Contemporary, Own Voice
- Booky Nooky Rating: * * * * *