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Filthy Animals

Review

Filthy Animals

There are short stories that give you a slice of a character’s life, just a moment in time, and then there are short stories that draw you in fully and bring you into a rich and complete emotional world. The stories in Brandon Taylor’s collection, FILTHY ANIMALS, fall into the latter category. It is not just because they are often connected, allowing readers to meet characters and encounter them again later; it is because Taylor masterfully creates the interior spaces of his figures and balances them with compelling exterior settings and circumstances.

Lionel, whose stories “Potluck” and “Meat” open and close the book and who also is found in “Proctoring” and “Apartment,” is home from a hospital stay after a recent suicide attempt. A gentle young man, formerly a graduate student in math, he is now proctoring exams at the university and starting to see friends again when he accepts an invitation to a potluck. There he meets and connects with Charles, who is in an open relationship with fellow dancer Sophie.

"In this shrewdly perceptive and impactful collection, Taylor delivers nuanced and rich stories with a steady hand."

Charles is doing his best to prove himself in dance and beginning to come to terms with his limitations. Sophie is fiercely talented and an enthralling personality, yet she is manipulative and not always kind. Lionel is drawn into their orbit --- he is attracted to Charles, interested in their dynamic, and in need of comfort, friendship and understanding. What happens between Lionel and Charles is immediate and physical, but Taylor leaves room for more. Readers will sympathize with Lionel at every turn of the page, hoping he finds health and contentment.

Taylor is interested in pairings and brings unlikely people together. In “Little Beast,” Sylvia is babysitting young twins and ponders her recent breakup while making lunch and cleaning up an awful mess. The children are mirrored by the two sets of adults for whom Sylvia works, highlighting her status of newly single. She is also paired with the girl she tends; both are wild, but only one lets that wildness reign. “Sylvia has blown up her life,” Taylor writes, but the story, in an interesting contrast, shows a woman succeeding in maintaining control. Hartjes sits at Simon’s table in “As Though That Were Love,” feeling the pull of Simon’s need, desire and loneliness. And Hartjes feels his boundaries eroding, having been made less firm with the grief he is experiencing after the death of his mother and distance from his family. “Anne of Cleves” is an optimist story of Sigrid and Marta as they explore their new relationship.

FILTHY ANIMALS is often dark, especially in the title piece, where a high school party goes horribly awry. There is hope here as well, often more vested in the reader than the characters themselves, who struggle with mental and physical health issues, complicated relationships with family, partners and friends, and feelings of isolation and being different. In this shrewdly perceptive and impactful collection, Taylor delivers nuanced and rich stories with a steady hand. His characters are multilayered, obviously flawed, powerful in ways they cannot realize, and all too real. This potent book, with its terrible violence and aching tenderness, is highly recommended.

Reviewed by Sarah Rachel Egelman on June 26, 2021

Filthy Animals
by Brandon Taylor

  • Publication Date: June 22, 2021
  • Genres: Fiction, Short Stories
  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Riverhead Books
  • ISBN-10: 0525538917
  • ISBN-13: 9780525538912