cover image Filthy Animals: Stories

Filthy Animals: Stories

Brandon Taylor. Riverhead, $26 (288p) ISBN 978-0-525-53891-2

Taylor follows his Booker shortlisted Real Life with a sharp, surprising collection. Many of the stories cover a 24-hour period in Madison, Wis., beginning with the excellent “Pot Luck.” Lionel, an exam proctor and mathematician who is recently out of psychiatric care following a suicide attempt, goes to a dinner party and meets Charles, a dancer. A mutual attraction emerges, despite some awkwardness and the presence of Charles’s partner, Sophie. “Flesh” shifts perspective to Charles in his dance class the next morning, and delineates his complex dynamic with Sophie. “Proctoring,” a standout featuring Lionel at work, further complicates the triangle. As the sequence continues, supporting characters are linked by various circumstances. (The client of a young woman who works as a home cook and a babysitter in “Little Beast” turns out to be the doctor of one of Charles’s dance classmates.) In the marvelous “Meat,” Lionel concludes, “All of life was shifting equations.” Throughout, Taylor spins intimate narratives of fraught relationship dynamics and demonstrates a keen sensitivity to his characters’ fragile mental health. Taylor’s language sparks with the tension of beauty and cruelty, conveying a sense of desire and the pleasures of food and sex complicated by capricious behavior. The author has an impressive range, and his depictions of complex characters trapped in untenable situations are hard to forget. Agent: Meredith Kaffel Simonoff, DeFiore and Co. (June)