Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Book Tour: Flings

I am so happy that Justin Taylor's newest collection of short stories, Flings, came my way. It has been FOREVER since I read any short stories, and they were a welcome retreat back into books while also considering my now-limited attention span.

My one-time blog collaborator Sal read Taylor's debut short story collection and posted about it on this site. I never read it and thus can't make comparisons between that collection and this one, but Flings certainly feels like a more thorough, second glance at fleeting interactions; Taylor manages to move beyond mere introduction, to provide a great deal of insight into his characters, in the short time we spend with them. That, for me, is exactly the job of a short story—to leave the reader feeling satisfied with brevity, without a novel-long conclusion.

The collection opens with its eponymous story and a quick rundown of the shifting post-college relationships in a group of friends. Percy breaks up with Kat and Kat bemoans to Danny while Danny has a fling with Rachel. And Ellen and Scott are practically married until Scott leaves Ellen, and only Danny can find Rachel to comfort Ellen, and then somehow, years down the road, Danny and Ellen find themselves together, living in Hong Kong, hosting their old friend Rachel in town for a visit.

'Sungold' follows a minimum-wage, organic pizza franchise employee living a cushy life in a crap job with a terrible boss who finds inspiration in the store's most atypical employee. In 'Adon Olam,' a young man is reminded of his childhood friendship with twin brothers years after one of the boys died of cancer. A father considers the life he's given his children and their consequential relationship while at a Phish concert in 'Mike's Song.' And in 'Carol, Alone' a seventy-two year old woman in a Florida retirement community examines the life that brought her here.

I loved this collection because I didn't need to love the characters to understand their conflict. These characters are flawed; there's plenty of deep-seated emotional constraints like selfishness and immaturity, but Taylor's characters are also littered with surface issues like cheating, dishonesty, and excessive drug use. Faults like these are all but guaranteed in Taylor's characters, but it's not the character he's trying to get you, the reader, to sympathize with—it's the situation, and how its a product of these characters, that Taylor illustrates. These stories are by no means concluded—it is a short story, not a novel, after all—but they are wrapped up enough to satisfy the reader while also leaving an aura of uncertainty. We have no idea how these lives will end up, and neither do the individuals living them—and that is the point.

A thoughtful and enjoyable collection.

This post is a stop on the TLC Book Tour of Justin Taylor's Flings: Stories! You can visit the tour page to learn more about the book, its author, and find a list of the other tour stops. If you're intrigued, be sure to check out all the other blogger opinions, continuing through mid-September!

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