The Late Americans by Brandon Taylor - review by Declan Ryan

Declan Ryan

Artists’ Retreat

The Late Americans

By

Jonathan Cape 320pp £18.99
 

The setting of Brandon Taylor’s new novel is Iowa City, home of the Writers’ Workshop and hotbed of aspiring artists. The cast is made up of poets, dancers and painters in training. Some are in the process of making good on their lofty ambitions, others are contending with the realisation that they won’t be able to live by, or even with, their gifts. The narrative focus shifts among these characters, at the precipice of choosing their futures, all of whose lives cross over, sometimes in bed, sometimes at parties or in classrooms, the whole thing driven forward by their shared sense of yearning and attempts to balance a life dedicated to art with the practical, often mundane, business of keeping the lights on. Some of the characters get to breeze by on their trust funds while others – to the curiosity of their peers – have to make sacrifices, usually by taking dead-end jobs, to support their ambitions. ‘But this is the real work,’ the wealthier classmates tend to say, while not doing anything else.

Taylor is witty and unillusioned about the motivations that drive people to endure all manner of lowering circumstances in service to their idea of art. One of the rare unifying drives for everyone here is spelled out when talk turns to future plans: ‘What they wanted was something that

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