Saturday, May 1, 2010

Book Review: "Everything Here is the Best Thing Ever" by Justin Taylor

I'm becoming more and more a fan of short story collections than ever before. It's funny—what I used to find most problematic about short stories, the fact that I would get invested in characters only to have to give them up within a few pages, I'm starting to enjoy more and more. A good short story collection really gives you insight into many memorable characters and situations, and while there are certain stories you wish to be longer, the collection is often like a buffet—sometimes there will be things you really like and other times you hope the stories will pass quickly.

Everything Here is the Best Thing Ever definitely upheld the buffet notion for me. Justin Taylor is a young writer with tremendous, tremendous promise. There are some absolutely fantastic stories in this collection, which features mostly twenty-somethings as main characters. As you might imagine, some of the stories touch on disillusionment, dysfunction and a general lack of motivation, but many of these stories are beautifully written. Some of my favorites include Tennessee, a story of family dysfunction and the need for belonging; The New Life, in which a teenager turns to the supernatural to try and keep his crush from slipping away; What Was Once All Yours, which combines religion and typical high school behavior with fantastic results; and In My Heart I Am Already Gone, in which a fairly rudderless guy is offered money from his uncle to kill their sick cat. I like that Taylor isn't afraid to draw his characters as complex, flawed individuals. Not all of Taylor's stories work; I am not a fan of really experimental fiction and a few of the stories follow that vein, but many stories are very brief, so it isn't too much of a challenge to muddle through.

If you enjoy short stories, I'd definitely recommend this collection. And I look forward to seeing what Justin Taylor accomplishes as his career progresses!

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