“There were a million tiny ways to make someone feel bad about something that didn’t involve saying anything directly,” realises Lionel, a recurring character in Brandon Taylor’s short stories. That realisation is a minor breakthrough. Taylor’s characters go through life (or come close to ending it) unaware of the million tiny micro-aggressions that have worn their hearts down to polished stone, unaware perhaps because they live in a world where macro-aggressions - from systemic racism to sexism, homophobia and social injustice – are so tolerated as to form part of the natural order.
Taylor is a master at capturing the moment when an act of tenderness exposes this invisible violence for what it is - providing an alternative one didn’t know existed - and the reverberations of this lightning strike as it very briefly illuminates new territory stretching as far as the eye can see.
Like Brian Washington, Taylor deftly describes life-changing epiphanies and the characters who badly need them, but not always on the same page. Life is harsh and unfair and can pass you by, sometimes mere seconds before you’re aware, just slow enough that you see your chance coming and vanishing, perhaps for ever.
In this world, a tiny moment of human warmth, often prompted by unforeseen desire, can reverberate with earth-shattering intensity. When a character knows to reach for it, a small vibration travels from Taylor’s words right into the reader’s soul, lodging there for a while, until it is forgotten.
Filthy Animals charts the boundaries between the self and this cruel world, boundaries too often breached without consent, without awareness that consent is even an option. With empathy, he describes intimacy as a fluid exchange of permissions that allow these boundaries to become porous, the exchange revealing new possibilities for happiness, but also vulnerability and pain.
Sometimes those penetrations are physical - cold through a broken window, fingers inserted into a mouth – sometimes emotional. They both reveal and help erase past injuries, inviting the sketching of a new map, the boundaries of a new self, part of the process of acknowledging trauma, of healing, of growing up.