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Real Life

4.22  ·  Rating details ·  327 ratings  ·  110 reviews
Named one of the most anticipated books of the year by Entertainment Weekly, Harper’s Bazaar, BuzzFeed, and more.

A novel of startling intimacy, violence, and mercy among friends in a Midwestern university town, from an electric new voice.

Almost everything about Wallace is at odds with the Midwestern university town where he is working uneasily toward a biochem degree. An
Hardcover, 336 pages
Published February 18th 2020 by Riverhead Books
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Average rating 4.22  · 
Rating details
 ·  327 ratings  ·  110 reviews

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Sep 15, 2019 rated it it was amazing
There is writing so exceptional, so intricately crafted that it demands reverence. The intimate prose of Brandon Taylor’s exquisite debut novel Real Life offers exactly that kind of writing. He writes so powerfully about so many things--the perils of graduate education, blackness in a predominantly white setting, loneliness, desire, trauma, need. Wallace, the man at the center of this novel, is written with such nuance and tenderness and complexity. He is closed unto himself but wanting to open ...more
Chaima ✨ شيماء
Reading this book was a religious experience. I don’t even want to talk. I need to sit with this. I need to remember this.

Full review to come.
Feb 02, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: favorites, 2020
Contemplative and absorbing, Real Life reflects on what it means to live authentically. Unfolding over the course of a single summer weekend in a Midwestern college town, the story follows Wallace, a reticent biochem grad student, as he nears an existential breakdown. His father has recently passed, he finds academia stultifying, and, as a queer Black man in an overwhelmingly white space, he finds himself estranged from his friends and labmates, subject to constant microaggressions and overt ...more
Paris (parisperusing)
Sep 16, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Brandon Taylor’s Real Life is indisputably one of the best novels of our generation, and I say this because it is true. Do you know how wonderful it feels to be represented as a gay black man — and by one of our own? Next to living, it is precisely the most euphoric feeling in the world, and so it is with immense joy that I could be one of this book’s earliest champions. Because when it comes to realizing the anxieties and nuances of our humanity, Taylor has given life to a character gay ...more
Feb 17, 2020 rated it liked it
Shelves: ew
I can’t figure out if it’s me or the books I’ve been reading, but I feel like I’m in a bit of a reading slump after a strong beginning in 2020. It took me forever to read Real Life. It’s getting a fair bit of attention and is on several books to watch in 2020 lists, but I found it hard to keep focused on the narrative. Wallace is an African American graduate student in biochemistry at a mid western university. He comes from a brutal impoverished family in Alabama. He is gay. His father died ...more
Anna Luce
4.25 stars

“Is it into this culture that he is to emerge? Into the narrow, dark water of real life?”

It had been awhile since I finished a book in one day or since I read a book that made me cry...but once I started Real Life I simply couldn't stop, even if what I was reading made me mad, then sad, then mad again, and then sad all over again.
This is one heart-wrenching novel. Yet, reading it was an immersive and all-consuming experience. I became frustrated by my own impotence and desperate to
Garrard Conley
Jul 20, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Such a great combination of humor and seriousness, w surprising insights on intimacy. I’ll be thinking about this one for a long time. There’s also a breathless chapter I don’t think I’ll ever stop thinking about. An amazing debut.
Dec 03, 2019 rated it it was amazing
I tend to get a little personal in my book reviews, considering reading is a highly personal act for me. I typically read not for "escape" but for self-illumination. But when books like the upcoming novel by Brandon Taylor, *Real Life*—books so in tune with how I live and fear and love—come along, I almost freeze up to talk about it.

My immediate response when I started reading was that Taylor writes amazing dialogue between men. The restraint, often amid great emotional feeling, of many of the
Jan 03, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: novels, debut-novels
PERFECT BOOK. REAL LIFE was my most anticipated novel of 2020. I feel like I’ve been reading Brandon Taylor’s work forever, and remember clearly the day on Twitter when he got into Iowa. This debut novel exceeded my expectations. It’s a stunner.

REAL LIFE follows Wallace, an introverted biology grad student in the Midwest, a Southern gay black man navigating the predominately white higher ed, over the course of a single late summer weekend. The writing is profound & beautiful. Wallace,

Brandon Taylor's debut novel Real Life left me with such a bookish hangover. After finishing the book, I felt like my world was rocked, I had to sit with that feeling for a moment.

In Real Life we meet Wallace, originally from Alabama, he moved to the Midwest to pursue a degree in biochem. As a black gay man from the South, Wallace took the first opportunity given to put some distance between him and his barely there family. An introvert at heart Wallace tries to come out of his comfort
Traci at The Stacks
Feb 17, 2020 rated it really liked it
The writing in this book is beyond. On a sentence level I don’t know that it gets much better. Taylor is so incredibly talented as a writer. There are parts of this book that made me hold my breath. He captures the feelings of being human and insecure. He also tackles so so much in this book. He doesn’t stick the landing at points, and it does run on in spots. But holy cow, worth a read for sure, especially if you’re a lover of contemporary fiction.
Jan 01, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Real Life was an unmerciful novel that tore down the walls of the fiction we have all come to know and love. Brandon Taylor manages to navigate pinpoint dialogue in the way only Rachel Cusk can currently do, and also descriptively break you by constant heartache and feelings towards his protagonist reminiscent of Toni Morrison and James Baldwin. A feverish novel that literally takes place over three days but managed to open my eyes to a lifetime of misfortunes and unheralded simple everyday ...more
Dec 30, 2019 rated it it was amazing
I received an ARC from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. Opinions are my own.

This debut novel is a gift to the world of novels. It is so quietly stirring that you won’t know what hit you by the end. Following an introverted PhD candidate named Wallace in close third person, Taylor skillfully weaves a story of friendship and superficiality, the subtle and ubiquitous ways in which white supremacy plays out in a white-dominant Midwestern friend group, queer love and queer infatuation.
Karen (idleutopia_reads)
Dec 14, 2019 rated it it was amazing
I was drained after reading Real Life as I accompanied Wallace on a weekend that was filled with micro and macroaggressions, entitlement, perceived acceptance, impostor syndrome, science (written in such a way that is so understandable), and academia (and all the hurdles that accompany Black people and POCs in it). It was tiring to accompany a Black gay man surrounded by white people and having to watch as the unperceived (by them) slights were hurled his way. Tiring because I was on the outside ...more
Vincent Scarpa
Aug 26, 2019 rated it it was amazing
“This too could be his life, Wallace thinks. This thing with Miller, eating fish in the middle of the night, watching the gray air of the night sky over the roof next door. This could be their life together, each moment shared, passed back and forth between each other to alleviate the pressure, the awful pressure of having to hold on to time for oneself. This is perhaps why people get together in the first place. The sharing of time. The sharing of the responsibility of anchoring oneself in the ...more
The Artisan Geek
Nov 30, 2019 is currently reading it
Shelves: bookcase
A sincere thank you to Riverhead Books for gifting me a copy of Real Life :)

You can find me on
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Charlie Smith
Nov 09, 2019 rated it it was amazing
I finished this only five minutes ago.

There are novels you read which transcend "reading", and, instead, vibrate and resonate so deeply in your soul, you feel connected to the world in a way you had not before, because you can say of the author, "Ah, there is someone who understands my experience, my life, my heart, the very marrow of my bones, my substance."

Brandon Taylor's debut novel explores the bloodcurdling-ly terrifying experience of learning to live with one's pain, one's damage, one's
Nov 16, 2019 rated it it was amazing
I read this book as a first draft and just finished the ARC. What strikes me between those two pieces of work is the way BT has shaved down the language to the sharpest most poignant themes. There’s no getting away from the harsh truths in this novel: cruelty, (feigned) intimacy, racism, family and friendship. I understand Wallace probably as well as I understand myself. Sometimes he’s wrong and sometimes he’s absolutely right about the way he sees the world.

Here’s my interview with Brandon at
Grim, grim, grim. But also honest, insightful & true. A provocative and provoking read, one that was akin to worrying your tongue over a raw socket where a tooth was once rooted, slippery and jellied, tender yet intoxicating in a hurts so good kind of way. Taylor tackles brutal topics in beautiful ways... the very definition of brutiful. Definitely has shades of A LITTLE LIFE but more grounded and introspective (and “woke”, I suppose). An impressive debut that will leave you shook.
Feb 22, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites, race, lgbt
I'm at a loss, Real Life is such an impactful, well-crafted novel.
Reggie Snead
Jan 22, 2020 rated it it was ok
I got an early copy of this from my bookseller, who couldn't make up her mind about it. I get that this book has a lot of in-crowd support right now, but it just feels tedious and self-congratulatory, mostly interested in its own cleverness. Wallace can't make up his mind about anything, and it feels like the author is wringing him dry for the sake of the story, rather than that pain coming from the character. It's also a book where very little happens--there's a lot of looking back--and that ...more
Celia Laskey
Dec 16, 2019 rated it it was amazing
I tore through this book in a matter of days. Taylor captured the dynamics of grad school so well, being forced together with these people who are supposed to have a common bond and goal but are all so incredibly different that they can't understand each other. The microaggressions and the flat-out aggressions were troublingly accurate—I felt so much rage for Wallace, and sometimes I felt his aloneness so powerfully that it was overwhelming. He just could never catch a break. And the ...more
Sep 19, 2019 added it
I have been a fan of Brandon’s for some time now, so when I say that this book is everything I dreamed a Brandon Taylor novel could be, I mean that as high praise. It made me feel so many things. Rage, at times, to the point where I literally got goosebumps. And sadness and happiness. And, most interestingly, recognition—there were things about the protagonist that felt so familiar, in ways I found both comforting and unsettling. So well done. ...more
Nov 21, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: debut-2020
The emotional intimacy in Taylor’s debut is completely gripping from the first page to the last. His story is about a graduate student transplanted from Alabama to a Midwestern university as he grapples with love, friendship, pain, and belonging. The subtle observations on life allow readers to sit with a moment for a long time, reflecting on the character’s pain, but also our own. He pushes us to question our own desires through beautiful prose and thoughtful revelations page after page. Simply ...more
Katie Devine
Dec 01, 2019 rated it it was amazing
One of the most intimate, corporeal reading experiences I've ever had, Brandon Taylor's debut novel is everything I'd hoped for and more. I have been captivated by his essays, and was thrilled to receive an early copy of his novel (out in Feb 2020). I was heartbroken and breathless with each page, actually saying out loud more than once, "how did he do that?." I am in complete awe and reverence of Taylor and this gorgeous debut.
C Zhang
Nov 09, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Superbly crafted and felt, with a surprise narrative move that will stun you
Aja Gabel
Sep 30, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Feb 09, 2020 rated it it was amazing
‘They watch the sun come up, its yellow light saturating everything and eventually burning away the mist of morning. They’re still sitting that way when the first sounds of cars fill the streets below, and the world turns over itself, to begin again.’

Set over the course of a summer weekend in an unnamed Midwestern university town, this is a deeply moving and thought-provoking novel. Wallace, our main character, is a young black man doing a post-graduate degree in biochemistry. Having escaped
Feb 11, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: lgbt
Absolutely incredible. Was just talking the other day with a friend about how some novels these days are too smooth, too polished, too rounded in terms of subject matter. These books open themselves up and allow themselves to be interpreted and understood in conventional and accessible ways. Few are the novels brave enough to be jagged, to resist answers and be difficult. The prose is perfectly polished but the characters are difficult, frustrating, annoying, charming, jagged. I’m in love with ...more
Feb 08, 2020 rated it it was amazing
REAL LIFE is a painful and searing novel about what it means to take the past with us or leave it behind (and whether we have a choice); about how we rub up against the pain of other people and, even if we can see it and sense it and understand it, we cannot, in the end, really know it. It's a novel that asks what it means to wait around for real life to get started, or whether there is such a thing--and who gets to dictate what that can and should look like. There is a measured patience in this ...more
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Brandon Taylor is the senior editor of Electric Literature's Recommended Reading and a staff writer at Literary Hub. His writing has received fellowships from Lambda Literary Foundation, Kimbilio Fiction, and the Tin House Summer Writer's Workshop. He holds graduate degrees from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and the University of Iowa, where he was an Iowa Arts Fellow at the Iowa Writers’ ...more

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“Miller: "You are so determined to be unknowable."
Wallace: "We are always unknowable.”
More quotes…