Flings: Stories by Justin Taylor (Harper, August 2014)
In this collection of short stories that are fleeting, or rather the characters and their relationships are fleeting, Taylor examines the familial bonds, friendships and acquaintances that make up our human experience but that are often just out of our grasp, the effects not felt for perhaps years later. At the same time, the collection feels as if Taylor is having a private joke with himself, perhaps at the characters’ expense, maybe even at ours, yet with each story there is something hidden, something that makes us want to stand up and redeem ourselves. Taylor has an uncanny knack of inserting sentences or phrases that seem innocent (in “Carol, Alone” the narrator talks about drinking real coffee versus decaf, musing that people chalk up their need to drink decaf to “Bad hearts…”) but at the same time, leaving the reader wondering if the phrase might have a deeper meaning and have been carefully chosen and placed rather than being as innocuous as they did at first blush. Taylor’s writing has agelessness about it and is easy and genuine whether he is writing about high school students, college students, children or retirees. Read individually, these stories and characters give the reader pause, but when collected and read as a whole, they linger long past the covers of the book.