Lionel, the main character of five linked stories at the heart of this, Brandon Taylor’s first collection, is a black, queer man – like Wallace, the protagonist of Taylor’s Booker Prize-shortlisted debut, Real Life (2020) – living on the fringes of academia in the American Midwest. When we first meet him in the opening story, ‘Potluck’, he has just come out of hospital after having tried to kill himself. Once a brilliant graduate student of mathematics, he has dropped out of the programme, lives in a tiny, depressing apartment and proctors examinations to get by.
Lionel’s fraught romantic entanglement with Charles and Sophie, both dancers, provides the themes that run through Filthy Animals: loneliness, inadequacy, thwarted ambition, the need to connect with and love fellow human beings, the redeeming flicker of affection and passion in lives on the edge, impotent rage at the inevitability of frustration and disappointment.
Along with the five linked stories, Filthy Animals contains six standalone ones. ‘Anne of Cleves’, which traces a woman’s journey from dating men to becoming involved with women, is a little gem. ‘What Made Them Made You’, a restrained contemplation of sexuality, family and illness, is one of