Cover Image: Filthy Animals

Filthy Animals

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Member Reviews

Filthy Animals is a raw, intimate, and vulnerable contemporary short story collection containing 11 stories total, where 6 of the stories are contained within a larger continuing framework story about a trio of people whose lives intersect, and 5 are one-off short stories.

The connected set follows Lionel, recovering from a recent hospital stay; and Charles and Sophie, two dancers in an open relationship.

Favorite stories: “Anne of Cleves”, about a budding sapphic relationship, which is probably now one of my favorite short stories overall; “What Made Them Made You”, about a cancer diagnosis and family dynamics; and "Proctoring", which is part of the connected set of stories and dives into Lionel's life.

Overall, I liked the 5 standalone stories more than the connected framework story, but that is less a comment on the quality of the framework story and more a comment on how much I liked the non-connected stories.

TW for mentions of self harm, suicidal ideation, suicide attempt, eating disorder, rape, racism, homophobia

Thank you to Netgalley, the author, and Riverhead Books for providing this digital ARC for review!
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Brandon Taylor can write - no doubt about that. In these linked stories he portrays the many nuanced layers of violence, sadness, loneliness, and complexity of relationships in stunning prose. There was some repetition and a little something missing when compared to his novel, but still very much worth picking up. I will read absolutely anything he writes going forward.
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Thank you to @netgalley and @riverheadbooks for the ARC. Thanks also to @bookchampions for doing this as a modified buddy read with me!⁣
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Last year, Taylor’s Real Life swept me off my feet with beautiful writing and astute attention to detail and the human condition. There is an unabashed bravery in Taylor’s writing that wrestles with the things we often try to avoid: isolation, loss, longing, and awkwardness. I was happy to see that continue with this short story collection. ⁣
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Many have been quick to note the interconnectedness of half of the stories, but after some thought and consideration I can see why the author chose to separate these tales instead of pushing them together like a novella. His keen awareness to point of view, I think, may be what decided this. Each story, though they have some similar characters and situations, stands alone from a unique vantage point. I think there is some power in that. ⁣
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Melancholy runs rampant, the juxtaposition and integration of beauty and desire and violence and want are on every single page. Some stories, admittedly, work more than others. Some favorites include: “As Though That Was Love,” “Filthy Animals,” and “Mass” but I highly recommend the entire collection as a masterclass in short story writing whether you read some or all.
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A test proctor. Several angry young men. A wild babysitter, a wilder child. 

Brandon Taylor is one of those rare authors who can bring you into a world believed to be ordinary and leave you wandering unexpected grounds. In this searing short story collection, the writer of "Real Life" — a novel slated to become a film starring (and produced by) Kid Cudi — continues to map a Midwest that writhes and bucks with life. In the pages of "Filthy Animals", people breathe, fight, and feel in ways no one wise could ever fly over.

The best short stories burn bright and quick, yet manage to create lasting marks. Taylor's steady prose and introspective characters make for a brief reading experience, but will keep you company for years to come. You’ll find yourself enraptured by polyamorous dancers, a lapsed mathematician, a dying woman, an academically-engrossed lesbian who thinks every woman can be sorted by which of Henry VIII’s wives they take after, and more. 

Taylor’s readers will delight (and shiver) to see their lives written back to them, in kind strokes and discerning detail. 

I found particular solace in "Little Beast", the second story in this book. It follows a babysitter living an in-between life. She quite literally moves through two backyards between houses to cook dinners and care for children, but she's also unmoored from her own experiences. Tasked with managing a rambunctious girl, she instead finds a kindred spirit. 

That’s how the entire collection feels: attempted tamings turned electric understandings.
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Oh my gosh. I loved this short story collection so much. I read Real Life by Brandon Taylor and fell in love with his writing. I couldn't wait to start Filthy Animals and it did not disappoint. Taylor's writing is just so wonderful. The way he can set a scene without over explanations is a highlight. I have just recently started reading more short stories and usually, I like some stories and some I don't care much about. What I can say about this collection is that I loved all but 2 of the stories. Of those 2 stories, I like one, and only one of them was just okay. I highly recommend this book!
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I wouldn't be the first person to call this collection of stories devastating. That's not a bad thing! Some of us crave stories that are both beautiful and painful to read. I appreciated the through line of Lionel's stories, and imagined the alternating stories were in some way untold encounters that informed his character. A few selections ("Grace" in particular) hinted at a haunting that has me dying to see Taylor write some modern gothic or horror.
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I truly love the raw and honest writing style of Brandon Taylor. Filthy Animals, while technically a short story collection, also carries the thread of a story through several chapters featuring Lionel, Charles, and Sophie. Taylor lays his characters bare and makes you think deeply about relationships, sex, attraction, love, life and death. The stories are sad, but seem to bring an authenticity to these characters.
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Someone wrote that “Filthy Animals” are stories about learning to love. I think they’re about how we may never do so.

This is a collection of stories, after the full fiction debut “Real Life” that also took on topics of what love means and how to get it – and how complicated it is compared to what we see in something like romantic comedies –, and casual racism and outsider complex.

In these stories, Brandon Taylor takes a more widened look, with varying settings and places but a few stories continue on in another story later in the book, but the clear and sharp look at the lives of those who are in the midst of “life” – the career, the family, the start of everything that makes an adult – and how quickly it doesn’t look like we thought it would.

It’s a work that defies any kind of genre, really. There’s certainly domestic views, but there’s also a sense of some kind of electric literary current running underneath them that I couldn’t quite put a label to, and that might be a good thing. These stories are meant to be interpreted by the reader, the way short stories should be, and are left either in frustratingly lonely resolutions, none at all, or some sliver of whatever type of hope can be read into them (not a negative thing).

Taylor is a very subdued writer, anyone reading him should be in store for the sense of longing with no real urgency, but with a writing style that doesn’t mean to say more than it does but ends up doing so anyway (in a good way).

This collection is a worthy follow-up to “Real Life” and a great stepping stone to Taylor’s next full work.

Thank you to Riverhead Books and NetGalley for early access to this title.
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This is easily going to be one of my favorite books of 2021. Filthy Animals is a series of short stories that weave into one another with several standalone stories mixed in. Lionel, a former mathematics grad student who has struggled with his mental health to the point of attempting to take his own life, is one of the main characters. We follow him throughout the book, watching as he becomes involved with a couple, Sophie and Charles. He has a physical relationship with Charles, with Sophie's knowledge. Charles is a mid-twenties dancer who is never going to make it big and is battling a bum knee that threatens to end his dancing career. Sprinkled in amongst the story of these three are the stories of two teenagers out for their last night before one is sent off to Idaho to a reform camp. A young woman wrestling with her own demise at the hands of cancer and hoping to help her gay brother and her stubborn grandfather reconcile. 

Taylor's writing is beautiful and vivid and it just sucks you in. With themes of sexuality, violence, race, and mental illness; you won't be able to put it down.
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There are so many touchy subjects in here but such an intimate portrayal of some of societies most complicated hardships and tragedies. I loved this raw depiction of life through linked stories. Highly Recommend and another good one for pride month!
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Brandon Taylor just knows how to craft an affecting story whether its situations are frenetic or meandering. The stories in Filthy Animals are devastating, beautiful, and full of feeling and will stay with you long after you've read them.
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Brandon Taylor is a genius. I loved this collection, despite not being a huge short story fan. I loved Lionel, Charles, and Sophie. Highly recommend
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Fans of Brandon Taylor’s Booker Prize–shortlisted debut “Real Life” will feel a sense of familiarity in his newest release, “Filthy Animals.” Much like that 2020 novel, “Filthy Animals” questions loneliness, trauma and intimacy at the intersection of mental health and personal suffering. 

The short story collection opens with Lionel, a Black, queer graduate student who now spends his time at an unnamed Midwestern university proctoring exams. Lionel is reminiscent of Wallace, the protagonist of “Real Life,” a gay Black man from a small town in Alabama pursuing a doctorate in biochemistry at a similar Midwestern university. 

“Taylor knows that Wallace sounds a lot like him,” a New York Times writer wrote last year. “Both are Black gay scientists. Both are migrants to the Midwest by way of Alabama. Both have had confusing trysts with straight men. (“My life, in some ways, is just a series of inappropriate encounters with heterosexual men,” Taylor joked.) And both have stood on the precipice of a scientific career and had to ask whether to walk back or leap.”

“Write what you know,” the saying goes, and both Wallace’s and Lionel’s stories feel painstakingly authentic. Taylor’s prose hums with energy, and the reading experience expands from a textual happening to an immersive experience. 

Lionel, Charles and Sophie intermingle in stand-alone stories that together share a sense of mutual concerns. Even further, each character is connected in some disparate way. There’s “Little Beast,” a story in which a nanny named Sylvia attempts to tame a wild little girl, who reminds her a little too much of herself. “She knows what it is like to be trapped inside a thing, a life,” Taylor writes. “It’s the kind of life Sylvia would like to live, but she knows it’s the kind of life that is impossible because the world can’t abide a raw woman.” (It is later discovered that Sylvia is the doctor of one of Charles’ dance classmates.)

“As Though That Were Love” is a story that thrives on empty space and things not said. More is learned from looking between the lines of dialogue. “Filthy Animals,” the title story, follows Milton, a young man leaving soon for an educational enrichment program. He and his friend Nolan head out to a party, and dark, dirty antics ensue. The collection is one of people trying to navigate intimacy, desire, cruelty and alienation. 

Along with the overarching story, one rife with so much tension and discomfort it leaps from the page, you get snippets into the lives of an intriguing set of characters. They are woven together with a gossamer of connectivity in a “six degrees of separation” type of way. “Filthy Animals” touches on the soft underbelly of human existence, showing the animalistic qualities we all share. How we all struggle to make meaningful connections, have a sense of dignity and deal with pain. Taylor can write beyond the story of a lone Black man in academia. Like “Real Life,” “Filthy Animals” is written almost in real time, taking place over hours or days and transforming the mundane aspects of life into something meaningful.

“Filthy Animals” could read as a single story. Yet, Taylor chose not to write another novel. And that is where the magic lies in “Filthy Animals.” That intention should be noted.
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So as far as short stories go, Brandon Taylor should teach a master class. They’re that good. Many of them, and my personal favorites, revolve around Lionel, the fragile, black graduate student post suicide attempt who enters into choppy relationship waters with a couple. Following Lionel is a study in loneliness while bracing as he dips his feet in a pool of sharks. 
Like ‘Real Life’, Taylor mines any scene for maximum intimacy, creating an immediate connection with his characters, many stories tethering to the world of our initial protagonist.
His stories don’t fall into the trap of so many of the genre, either ending too soon, or with a drop off that leaves you hanging and feeling completely unsatisfied.
My only complaint was wanting some to continue in a full length format. Just a damn great writer.
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Filthy Animals is structured like a piece of music.

Several of the stories interconnect, like movements on a theme. Interspersed are separate stories, stand alone tales. Bridges between movements.

Taylor's writing is beautiful. Vivid. I found every story in this collection to be brilliantly crafted and evocative and I look forward to reading them over again, revisiting Taylor's writing, immersing myself in his brilliantly crafted prose once more.
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Every other story in FILTHY ANIMALS is part of a broader narrative, while the rest are self-contained short stories. Taylor's writing is intelligent and insightful with brilliant imagery and incisive observations of humanity. The stories are intimate and at times brutal. If you enjoy literary fiction, this collection is for you!

As for me, I was reminded why I don't often read literary or short fiction. Without a compelling plot, I don't get invested, so these short character studies and slice-of-life stories don't do much for me. Of course, I still appreciate Taylor's intelligence and talent and stand by my first paragraph, which is why I've gone with a high rating. Those who enjoy this type of writing will get to sink their teeth into some good stuff with FILTHY ANIMALS.
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Taylor’s writing is incredible. The book is a set of linked stories about young individuals in the midwest. It touches on suicide, sexuality, cancer, violence and more. Brandon Taylor manages to link all these very different, yet similar stories together in a smooth, mind boggling way. I cried, laughed, got angry and was incredibly frustrated throughout the course of this book.
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“He was grateful he hadn’t betrayed himself by feeling more than he’d let himself feel.”

I loved this book so much that even though I read it on Kindle I feel compelled to pick up a physical copy.  

The writing is gorgeous, lyrical and evocative without being overly ornate.  The tone throughout is melancholy and tense, with moments of humor, hints of hope, and shocking bursts of violence.  Taylor is an absolute master at depicting loneliness, the search for intimacy and belonging, and the minute cruelties we—sometimes defensively—inflict upon each other.  And just as in Real Life, his portrayal of social anxiety again was so real and close to home that it hit like a gut punch. 

Half the stories in the collection are linked and involve the same universe of characters, and those alternate with standalone stories.  I don’t always love short story collections because I find myself having trouble getting invested, but this was a brilliant structure for maintaining dramatic tension and propelling me through the book.  That said, I also loved the standalone stories and they totally held up for me despite my investment in the linked plotline.

Pairings:  For the tone, the closely observed representation of a place, and the beautiful character dynamics, I’d recommend That Old Country Music by Kevin Barry.  And since many of the stories involve high-level classically trained dancers and include allusions to the pressures and pathologies of that world, I found myself thinking repeatedly of Turning Pointe by Chloe Angyal.
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Thanks to NetGalley and Riverhead Books for an ARC of this title.

What a fantastic collection of short stories.  Everyone in this book has blown up their life in some way or another, and this sits with them and shows the consequences of that in slices of their life.  A recurring set of characters populates every other story, with other one-off stories filling in other shades of the way people and relationships can be messy.  Brandon Taylor's writing does a great job of capturing detail and bringing these characters to life.
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Filthy Animals is one of the most anticipated books of the year, and it absolutely lives up to the hype.

The collection opens with a story about a man named Lionel, who has hit a particularly difficult point in his life, and who meets two dancers in an open relationship at a friend’s potluck dinner. Every alternating story in the collection returns to these three characters, which, strung together, could have even become a novella. I really liked this format, the promise that we will come back and learn more about them, return to the near-tangible tension between them, see what happens next. But all the other stories in the collection are incredible, too, as one would expect from Brandon Taylor.

I feel, now, that I could recognize Taylor’s writing anywhere, just by the level of detail he includes on every page. His writing zooms in on practically everything, which draws meaning and poignancy out of the otherwise mundane. Reading his stories, I feel like I could be an ant inside them, viewing every surface, every facial expression, every moment from close up. And then he zooms out when it comes to dialogue, letting every word ring and echo in hollow space. The result is both quiet and loud.

This is one of those books where I think the back-cover blurb is especially on the nose: “Psychologically taut and quietly devastating,” and “a tender portrait of the fierce longing for intimacy, the lingering presence of pain, and the desire for love in a world that seems, more often than not, to withhold it.” I really can’t sum it up any better than that.


CONTENT WARNINGS:
Description of suicide attempt and suicidal thoughts (central theme); Rape (off screen/recounted later); Pedophilia (briefly remembered); Bulimia (described in the past); Terminal illness; Racism and homophobia
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