cover image The Late Americans

The Late Americans

Brandon Taylor. Riverhead, $27 (320p) ISBN 978-0-593-33233-7

Taylor (Filthy Animals) offers a perceptive chronicle of graduate students and their townie lovers in Iowa City. Seamus, a white poet in the MFA program, is embittered, having been told by his classmates and professor that his poems aren’t relevant to the contemporary discourse. After a rough sexual encounter with Bert, an older man whose father is a patient in the hospice where Seamus works as a cook, Seamus throws his energy into a new poem. There’s also Fyodor and Timo, two Black men in an on-again/off-again relationship, their tensions sparked by Fyodor’s resentment of Timo’s comfortable middle-class origins, which put him on a path to study math and music, and by vegetarian Timo’s outrage at Fyodor for working in a meatpacking plant. Ivan and Goran, another couple, fight about not having sex anymore, then sleep with other people instead. The various episodes don’t quite cohere, but Taylor’s characters come to life as they face unbridgeable gaps and their frustrations mount. Though economic privilege drives a wedge in many of the characters’ relationships, their sexual desires and shared uncertainty about the future keep them tumbling along together through scenes cut with razor-sharp observations (here’s Timo, asked what kind of math he studies: “A pointless grasp at specificity, leading nowhere in particular”). With verve and wit, Taylor pulls off something like Sally Rooney for the Midwest. (May)

Correction: An earlier version of this review misstated the race of one of the characters.