Brandon Taylor’s “Real Life”

Owen Biniecki, Editor

The pseudo-autobiography and coming-of-age novel Real Life, by Brandon Taylor, captures the rawest moments of the college experience of a black, gay doctoral student. 

Set in the more conservative American Midwest, the main character, Wallace, a literary parallel to Taylor, faces racism and homophobia from his peers and professor and endures deep-seated trauma from past sexual abuse and neglect. As the book progresses, Wallace confronts some of his past demons as his peers continue with their own doctorate programs and lives. Wallace’s silent struggle with depression and trauma illustrates the reality of the intense and intimate hardships many people face alone and provides an exceedingly raw perspective into what potentially lies beneath the surface of every college student. 

While Wallace faces the darkness of his past, he is also confronted with the views of his fellow students, all of whom believe Wallace is selfish for struggling because, as they believe, they never got the opportunity to show their vulnerabilities, unlike Wallace. This envy-rooted victim-blaming, and the blatant racism shown by Wallace’s professor, Simone, only add to Wallace’s depression and anxieties. Over the course of the novel, Wallace’s life gains even more complexity as an increasing amount of societal pressures and biases weigh him down. Taylor holds nothing back as he writes, every event is told in heart-wrenching detail, and we hear Wallace’s inner thoughts as he sinks further and further into depression. For example, we see glimpses into Wallace’s rape and terrible childhood. 

This attention to detail, which pulls no emotional punches, is what makes Taylor’s writing so intriguing. Everyone has hardships no one sees from the outside, everyone has tumultuous times, and horrible situations thrown onto them, but as a society, we are embarrassed to admit to this struggle. Taylor’s intimate exploration into Wallace’s struggle reveals this reality and can only inspire the reader to look into their own, making for an incredibly emotional and heartfelt reading experience. The complexity of this book, tied in with the realities of life it forces the reader to confront, has caused Real Life to be one of the most memorable reading experiences I have ever had. The emotional impact alone knocked me off my feet. I finished the entire book in just two days. If you’re looking to spend your nights reading in introspection, or for an emotional reading experience, I could not recommend this book enough. Don’t be surprised to shed a few tears along the way.