February 2010

Lorian Long

fiction

Everything Here Is the Best Thing Ever by Justin Taylor

The fifteen stories in Justin Taylor's Everything Here is the Best Thing Ever are like fifteen love letters to a generation with hope, but nowhere to go. Some folks get religion, some drink a lot, and some fuck each other to escape the ennui of small-town existence. A few go to New York. Restlessness becomes something of a destructive force in the lives of characters smart enough to know what they’re destroying, but young enough to indulge each other.  

For Taylor's late twenty-somethings, youth is falling from their bodies like an old pair of JNCOs -- a fashion observed in the opening story, "Amber at the Window in Hurricane Season" -- and nostalgia replaces idealism. Although most of the characters are maybe too young to even consider “losing their youth,” you get the sense these are old souls, weary of their weariness. Even high schoolers are fighting the same battles as forty year-old gay men; this could be John Hughes on Xanax. Perhaps a new genre: Post-Hughes? 

However, Taylor's prose is not medicated like the recent burgeoning of unyielding minimalism from today's "Generation Zzz" writers (Tao Lin, Zachary German, Brandon Scott Gorrell); Taylor flirts with poetic language, teasing us with lines so lusciously packed that even a tattoo's description can set the page on fire: "I see twin comets, dive-bombing like predatory birds past the waterline at the rim of her tight low-rise black jeans, the arc of the stars' descent such that if her body is the universe the galaxial collision must blaze in the far astral reach of her hidden cunt." It's a moment that transcends Taylor’s twenty-seven years of experience, spiraling out from the here and now to the inevitable future of pages and pages of this stuff. 

The second story in the collection, “In My Heart I am Already Gone,” glitters the way a Lorrie Moore story glitters, with the devastations of life given radiance in subtle moments, such as the blood from a cat's nose as he slams his body against the locked bathroom door, desperate to escape. Kyle, a twenty-something stuck at a junior college in a town where nobody lives, is responsible for the mercy killing of his uncle’s depressed cat. Taylor is best when painful, poking the reader ever so softly through the ribcage with instances of shame and recognition: the fifty dollars Kyle's uncle pays him to carry out the deed, and Kyle lying when a friend asks, "How much?" And he responds, "Four hundred." Kyle in bed with Sarah, a girl he’s slept with since they were teenagers: “She is wearing only an old pair of white underwear, faded from a thousand washings and thin. Her pubic hair presses against the fabric; it looks like a topographic map, perhaps a map of us, if we, this, could be less a thing than a place.” There is a precise delicacy in the way Taylor navigates Kyle’s search for significance, and it can be found with any character in the book.  

Occasionally, the navigation takes a less delicate approach, and misfires with stories like “What Was Once All Yours” and “Weekend Away.” The first piece is about an abortion, told from the male narrator’s point of view, and the second is told from a woman’s perspective as she picks up a hitchhiker. The emotional heaviness of an abortion works best when only nudged, not shoved, and what happens afterwards is just as important as the event itself. And the voice of “Weekend Away” feels off, perhaps as a result of observing and reading women through the eyes of a man in every other story.   

But heaviness can work in a story like “Jewels Flashing in the Night of Time,” where sexual transgression in the bedroom has the power to destroy or redeem, depending on who gets naked first. Taylor writes about detainee torture in Abu Ghraib, using the news story as backdrop for a love story between two people who would rather hurt each other than be alone; they seek intimacy, but do not know how to find it. The narrator listens to "Debaser" by the Pixies as the story opens, and here is the genius in Taylor’s ability to internalize a generation's crisis of cruelty in one single (fantastic) track. It is these moments of recognizing a time and place so warped, yet so significant for many of us, which allow Taylor to find the beauty in our self-obsession.  

Everything Here Is the Best Thing Ever by Justin Taylor
Harper Perennial
ISBN: 0061881813
208 Pages