The Late Americans

Riverhead. May 2023. 320p. ISBN 9780593332337. $28. F
On its surface, Taylor’s sophomore novel opts for a similar milieu to that of his breakout 2020 debut Real Life—specifically, major Midwestern university graduate programs. But it’s a more expansive affair, a constellation novel with a roster of interconnected characters navigating the emotional, social, and intellectual spectrums of modern living. There’s also a compelling dissonance here: main characters indeed register as apt reflections of the book’s title—Gen Zers navigating a petty, increasingly surreal late capitalist United States within the confines of academia (it’s no accident that these young folks are poets, painters, musicians, and dancers)—but Taylor lends the novel a texture that’s more classical than contemporary (even down to giving his subjects names like Fyodor and Ivan and Seamus). It’s a savvy maneuver that places these people and their artistic pursuits within a literary lineage, reshaping their relationships and struggles. The problem then, and where the book comes up short of Real Life, is in tipping too frequently into mere misery business. Near the novel’s end, one character considers what happiness is to him: “Pushing one another, pulling one another, falling apart, coming together, kissing, hugging, laughing.” This is a fair enough synopsis for the novel, but little of the joy it implies consistently registers.
VERDICT Taylor again proves himself to be a master of creating recognizable, fallible humans, but the novel’s unvaried tonal character becomes wearisome and smothers too many of its virtues of canny observation.
Comment Policy:
  • Be respectful, and do not attack the author, people mentioned in the article, or other commenters. Take on the idea, not the messenger.
  • Don't use obscene, profane, or vulgar language.
  • Stay on point. Comments that stray from the topic at hand may be deleted.
  • Comments may be republished in print, online, or other forms of media.
  • If you see something objectionable, please let us know. Once a comment has been flagged, a staff member will investigate.



We are currently offering this content for free. Sign up now to activate your personal profile, where you can save articles for future viewing