Cover Image: Filthy Animals

Filthy Animals

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Member Reviews

Filthy Animals is an incredible short story collection from one of my new favorite authors. I loved Real Life, and these stories just affirmed how great of a writer Brandon Taylor is. He's talked about how he's more comfortable writing short stories, and I could tell. He writes with ease and frankness; his work is some where I can visibly notice how every word is chosen delicately, and how the author edits himself to tell the story in it's best way.
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Brandon Taylor is one of the greatest living writers we have, period. This story collection is passionate, visceral, and searing in its depictions of longing. No one can set a scene like Brandon Taylor. His prose is at once sumptuous and piercing. Overall, what’s truly wild is that this is only Taylor’s second work. I implore you all to pick this up. It’s a treat, especially for short story lovers like myself, and I can’t wait to dive back in while I await whatever he’s cooking up next.
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I appreciated these stories, the way they were linked and so effectively captured a particular kind of situation. There's something about education as a path out that is almost a trope, but it can also grind people down and disillusion them, especially black people and queer people, who are centered in these stories. The stories were melancholy through and through, and as I read I kept finding myself telling the characters to speak honestly for one, without clouding words in layers of sarcasm or other defense. The collection did hit the same note again and again. I think the standout story is Anne of Cleves.

(My nitpicky aside is that nearly all the "inside details" of the recurring mathematician character were off. Mathematicians rarely study under Nobel laureates (no Nobel for math), they give talks at conferences rather than presenting papers, and there are no nominations for the Fields Medal. Maybe these details will be fixed in final edits as I read an ARC but one pass from someone with math knowledge would have fixed all this!)
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Filthy Animals is a collection of vaguely interconnected short stories about a loosely connected group of young LGBTQ people mostly based in the Midwest. If there is a main character across the eleven stories, it is Lionel, a suicidal mathematician turned college exam proctor, who makes several appearances and is the focus of the opening and closing chapters. Lionel is placed in the middle of a sexual tug of war between two dance students, Charles and Sophie, who also appear as recurring characters. There are a number of other queer persons that populate the pages of Brandon Taylor’s writing in smaller spaces, such as Alek, a fellow dancer who briefly dates Sophie, Milton, a teenager in Alabama who is afraid of coming to terms with his own sexuality, and Grace, a 20-something year-old who has been diagnosed with an inoperable tumor living with her spiteful grandparents. If you’ve read any lists of anticipated books for this year and this summer, in particular, there’s no doubt Filthy Animals is near the top of them all. It’s always a little strange to me when books of collected fiction make these lists (six of the 11 stories have been previously published in some capacity), because how can you anticipate something that has already been released?

There are passages of great beauty in Filthy Animals, such as a paragraph in “Little Beast” where a girl reminisces about a song passed down from her grandmother that had shaped the voices of her entire family line; instead of a natural soprano, it transforms the singing voices of the women in the family to become warm and deep. Taylor has a keen ability to transcribe ephemeral senses into the written word, such as when, in a later story, he describes a doctor’s office has holding a “that bitter, burned hazelnut coffee smell.” There are more phrases like this; phrases that are new and original but feel familiar, as if there is no other way to describe these daily sites and rituals we all share. Despite all this beauty, I, personally, found the collection rather lacking. The most disappointing part of this reading experience for me is that I think if I had discovered this book six or seven years ago, I would have found a deep emotional connection—as a college aged individual trying to understand and seize the world. For whatever reason, I’m currently at a place in my life when the trials and tribulations of graduate students is something I couldn’t care less about. I wouldn’t be surprised if in ten or 20 years my feelings reverse on this again and I find the wonder in these young adults attempting to divine meaning in the world. In fact, I hope so.

The other piece I struggled with, that got worse and worse the farther into the book I read, is the incredible lack of joy throughout these pages. It’s no secret that most LGBTQ literature is quite dark and depressing; as any minority group that has faced discrimination will have in their fiction and collective consciousness, but the timing is off. I would never encourage anyone to stop writing lamenting stories or songs (they can be the best!), but in 2021 when it comes to the LGBTQ canon I would much more prefer fare that normalizes, celebrates and gives these characters a piece of lasting happiness. I found by the final three stories, I was dreading turning the page, afraid of what terror might befall these characters. In the last story, the conclusion of Lionel’s character, we learn that Lionel has difficulty using the telephone because of his social anxiety—look, all millennials hate talking on the phone, guilty, but this is not something that should be dropped as character background with four pages left in a book! Looking back on the 100 some odd pages spent with Lionel it’s difficult to see any kind of growth in him as a person. Short stories don’t necessarily need to convey character development—they function as a snapshot of a life, but Lionel (and by extension Charles and Sophie) is the protagonist of a novella and I expect some sort of change to come over him at some point.

Perhaps I came in expecting something different than what the book is, and that’s my fault. I was expecting A Visit from the Good Squad and instead got a traditional collection of short stories with (very) slight overlap. Taylor’s prose is crisp, but the plotting is a drudge. There are spaces for depressing (and unfortunately real!) stories in LGBTQ fiction, A Little Life-style, but this short book was a slog to get through after the first four or five stories.
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In FILTHY ANIMALS, every other story follows Lionel, who was recently released from the hospital after a suicide attempt, and Sophie and Charles, two dancers who are in an open relationship. The thread of their story—which explores intimacy, cruelty, frailty, longing, and the interconnection of all of those things—is both beautifully written and uncomfortably tense. The rest of the stories are one-off character studies, including my favorite from the collection, "Anne of Cleves." I think what draws me to Brandon Taylor's writing is his ability to describe the weight of the everyday; a look between a mother and child, a moment spent lounging in the sun with a lover, the tension between two teenagers on a hill getting high. The entire collection is beautiful and melancholic and I highly recommend it, with the caution that it's not for the faint of heart (there's a reason I kicked this off with trigger warnings).

A side note: one of the things that I loved about REAL LIFE and now FILTHY ANIMALS is how Brandon Taylor writes about Madison. As someone who lived there as a straight, white, middle-class undergrad, reading Brandon Taylor's books has given me the opportunity to experience the town through the lens of so many different eyes. I loved following Lionel, Sophie, and Charles around campus, through the buildings where I took dance and English classes, and then jumping into a story that takes place in the spaces beyond campus; suburban homes, out in the "country," "up north." The book felt like a snapshot of all the diverse lives that can be lived simultaneously in a single space.
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Brandon Taylor has a gift for writing and developing the most real yet flawed characters. For that reason, this book is extremely difficult for me to rate. There were so many times I wanted to scream out loud and throw the book out the window (same with Real Life). 

The one aspect of the story that was a bit confusing was the jump in short stories. Sometimes you saw characters show up a few times and other times only once for a few pages. The flow was a bit off for me. 

I think if you are a fan of Brandon Taylor’s writing you will probably enjoy his latest work quite a bit. Personally, I need to find at least one character to fall in love with and this was not the book in which that happened. 
A big thank you to NetGalley and Riverhead Books for allowing me to read an early copy of this book!
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I don’t usually like short story collections, but I enjoyed this one. Possibly it’s because half the stories were linked in an almost continuous narrative. I definitely will read more of Taylor’s work after this.
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I didn't connect with this quite as much as I did Real Life, but also it's Brandon Taylor so I still loved it. This felt a lot grittier in terms of depictions of sex, relationships, depression, and trauma, so if those parts of Real Life were not your jam I'm not sure this collection will work for you. I particularly enjoyed the interconnected short stories, as they put me back into the grad school bubble Taylor captured so well in Real Life and I was fascinated by the explorations of lust and companionship. I also enjoyed the story "Anne of Cleaves," as that struck me as the most unique out of the collection.

Thank you to Brandon Taylor and Riverhead (Penguin Random House) for providing me with a free early copy of this work through Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. Filthy Animals comes out on June 22.
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This was a novella interspersed with short stories, addressing sexuality, mortality, mental health, vocation, and so much more. I loved his earlier book Real Life so was really excited to get an early copy of this! 

The primary story tells of Lionel, who survived a suicide attempt a year earlier, and meets dancers Charles and Sophie at a party, and ends up in a complicated position in their open relationship. I'm glad this was the novella, because it took me a little bit to get into the story, and I really liked how each installment delved into the story and even brought out perspectives of minor characters. 

I think my favorite short story was Anne of Cleves, because I loved the main character and her process of self-discovery and growth. Also as a huge fan of the Tudor era, I enjoyed how they connected personalities to Henry VIII's wives. 

As with any collection of short stories, this was sometimes hard to get momentum. But Brandon Taylor is a great writer, and he brings these characters and stories to life.
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3.5.

As someone who absolutely adored Real Life by the same author, this was one of my most highly anticipated reads of 2021. I think Brandon Taylor writes with a fine-toothed comb. Everything feels precisely placed and fully realized and I appreciate that. However, I just wasn't wowed by these stories. Tonally, they felt very similar and I'm someone who likes a bit of variety in a short story collection following a similar theme. The over-arching story about Lionel was definitely the strongest. I don't think this was bad, in fact the writing was absolutely on par with Real Life, it just didn't leave any lasting impression. That's fine, not every book will do that. I think in the end I felt a little let down just because of how much I was looking forward to it after reading Real Life, but that's not the books fault. I do think many will adore this one.
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Extraordinary follow up to REAL LIFE. There is a palpable sense of purpose to Taylor’s writing. I continued to be enthralled by Taylor’s use of language which is both imminently readable, but also reveal profound observations about human desire and frustrations.
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Wow. Brandon Taylor's ability to convey such emotions through short stories is incredible. The entire book kept together quite well.
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Man, can Brandon Taylor write! His ability to describe discomfort and disquiet is masterful. I wish this would have been either all connected or one long(er) novella even...I didn’t quite fall into the groove of what the author was trying to do with this group of short stories. I wanted more. Love his writing and am so appreciative and in awe of his talented writing. What a gift. Thank you to Riverhead for a copy of this book. I’m grateful.
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I was looking forward to this novel, but unfortunately it fell a little flat for me. I didn't connect to any of the characters.
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This set of interconnected stories is best read as a novel not as a collection. Lionel, a young man struggling with his identity and his mental health meets Charles and Sophie at a dinner party.  Everyone else revolves around these three.  It's an interesting conceit. Taylor has once again tackled race, sex, death, academia and love in a way that engages.  If I have a complaint it's that there isn't a beating heart here but rather a more distant look at a group of young(ish) people in Wisconsin.  That's not to say that you won't feel for some of the characters but that the emotional is meted out.  Thanks to the publisher for the ARC.  Taylor's fans will be pleased as will those who enjoy literary fiction.
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It has been five weeks since I finished Filthy Animals, and I have not stopped thinking about it yet. The moment NetGalley told me I’d been approved to read it early, I nearly screamed with joy. Over the last few years, Brandon Taylor has become one of my favorite authors. I started following him on twitter first; he probably caught my attention while going on about a period film we both admire. Then I read one of his short stories. And then I read another. And I’ve been trying to keep up since—which has proven difficult because he’s so damn prolific! But not only does he write a lot, he writes excruciatingly well: As the preeminent voice in the genre of sweater literature, Brandon Taylor is truly one of our finest storytellers. 

His novel Real Life was the best book of 2020. Since reading it last June, it’s been my go-to book recommendation. There’s an uncanny intricacy to the way Taylor pens his stories. Every clause is a stitch in a magnificent garment, so tightly knit and full of complexity. Taylor earned every accolade he received for Real Life. 

He brings that same level of craftsmanship to Filthy Animals, a collection of linked and standalone stories. If you’re a fan, you may have already read an earlier version of these entries. For instance, I read “Proctoring” back in 2017 when it was published in Joyland as “French Absolutism.” But don’t let that compel you to skip. Taylor has reworked and fine-tuned these narratives so they flow and build upon one another…

… The queerness of Brandon Taylor’s writing cannot go unmentioned. There is a certain delicacy with which he crafts these characters; he’s especially adept at capturing the frail and the broken. Their inner struggles and fears ring true. Every character seems to be navigating through a difficult or momentous time in their life, and many of their hardships involve some fraught form of human connection, or a lack thereof. A yearning for closeness paired with a concern of what such intimacy may bring. This is a concept that I think a lot of queer folks can relate to, particularly those of us who came into our own while living in the geographic middle of the country. 

FULL REVIEW COMING SOON TO FEARSOMEQUEER.NET
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After reading and being blown away by Brandon Taylor's "Real Life", I was ready for whatever he wrote next. "Filthy Animals" is a collection of short stories that has a mix of recurring and unique characters. The overriding theme throughout these stories is loneliness, when one is alone or among others, and the pull of wanting to be understood. My favorite stories in the collection are the ones that feature the same group of individuals. The main character of note is Lionel, a graduate student in mathematics, who has just been discharged from the hospital. In the opening story "Potluck" he reluctantly attends a party by a former classmate, where he feels deeply uncomfortable among others. At this party he meets Charles and his girlfriend Sofie. The relationship between these three characters are highlighted in over half of the stories, so we get to know them better. Charles and Sofie are both dancers, and they struggle with deciding what they want to do with their life considering the diminishing opportunities as they age in their profession. Lionel is definitely reminiscent to me of Wallace, the main character in Taylor's "Real Life". He's very observant and deeply vulnerable. Taylor's descriptions of what is is like to live with depression and anxiety are deeply resonant. The other stories in this collection were a bit of a mixed bag for me. My favorite of them was probably "Anne of Cleves", which continues to highlight Taylor's talent at writing interesting conversations where so much (and nothing) are said. If you enjoyed Taylor's previous book and writings, you will absolutely appreciate what he has done with this collection and I will continue to recommend his writings to everyone I know.

Thank you to NetGalley and Riverhead for the advance reader copy in exchange for honest review.
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Unfortunately I don’t think short story books are for me.. they always leave me wanting more and I think the brevity of these stories added to that. I enjoyed the “main” story about Charlie, Lionel, and Sophie and would’ve loved a whole book on just that dynamic!
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Overall, I felt kinda meh about this book.  Not necessarily bad, but not particularly memorable either.  Giving it 2.5/5 Stars.
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I really, really wanted to like this one. I loved Brandon Taylor's debut novel. But this was exactly the kind of short story collection that makes me not like short story collections: a bunch of random stories from various publications, edited and stuck together in a way that tries to make sense but doesn't totally work. None of the stories really stood out to me because there was so much similarity, and they didn't work together to tell any kind of larger story that captured my interest. I'll still read Taylor's work in the future, but I won't be recommending this one.
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