Brandon Taylor: “Before the Leap” – Stuck in Your Skin

Brandon Taylor: “Before the Leap” (Photo: © Bill Adams/Piper Verlag, book cover: Piper Verlag)

American writer Brandon Taylor, born in Alabama in 1989, collects stories about people in emotional or mental intermediate states in his first volume of stories. It focuses on threshold beings who are motivated by a desire to get out of their life situation, which they consider outdated or meaningless. Creatures like babysitter Sylvia in the story “Little Monster”, who suffer indirectly from that corrosive mixture of emotions that paralyze or excite all the characters assembled in the book when she says about them:

“She knows what it means to be trapped in something, in one life. She knows what it’s like to dig a hole in all the things around you. But there is something else.”

Emotional center is missing

Sylvia does everything parents of children feel they are unable to do. In fact, she is pretty good at what she does. But it still didn’t make her happy. Because since she broke up with her boyfriend, her life has lacked an emotional center. So she is increasingly searching for meaning in her work. But her anger at being just another woman who brings potato chips in garlic butter to the naughty children and endures their screams is not mitigated by it. exactly the contrary:

“It’s like following a muddy river upstream until a clear bubble spring. When you reach the top, it stops. It hides its wolf teeth as much as it can. It hides the part that wants to catch the girl and tear her to pieces.”

Connection failed

Taylor admirably knows how to bring the struggles of his characters, who work with their lives and with unsolvable math problems, to life. The tension that characterizes his stories regularly arises from what is alluded to or left unsaid. On top of that, the failure of communication, the failure of friendship, marriage, and love slowly become visible among the many seemingly harmless dialogues in which Taylor engages his characters.

However, they are often afraid of even the thought of having to let go of the familiar without knowing the value they will get in return. And as in the case of gay dancer Charles in Flesh, who appears to be nearing the end of his career after sustaining a knee injury, they are willing to go to great lengths to avoid jumping into the unknown. .

“If only I had three more years of this,” said Charles, referring to Lionel’s life with a big nod.

“You feel kind of self-pitying now,” Lionel said.

“I’m just saying you’re really lucky. And I’m sitting here with my damn knee about to suck an old man’s dick to give me an audition. So maybe I can carry on with the thing I love the most for another two years.”

the burden of silence

Despite the many words exchanged, a mysterious silence weighs down all the stories. Because the cries of despair that Taylor’s characters love to utter have been swallowed up. As in the case of Milton, the juvenile protagonist in the cover story before the jump, whose parents want to enroll him in a so-called “horizontal expansion program” to keep him off the streets of Alabama:

“He’s supposed to spend all spring on a farm in Idaho trying to make something of himself. No phone, no internet. They’re disappointed with his development in recent years, they say, and this is their last attempt, and their last great effort. I don’t have Milton has no idea what they want from him. As of today he is seventeen.”

Milton thinks this is something to celebrate, and he’s meeting his friends. But the evening does not go as planned: his best friend Nolan kills another person with a stone. And when Milton also finds out that Nolan has raped a classmate, he has a choice: walk away and jump! Or continue with what has no real future.

Worm breeder seeks ‘alternative self’

In the course of Taylor’s debut novel “Real Life,” which was published in German last year, its protagonist Wallace, as a doctoral student at the Institute of Biochemistry of a small American university, raised and raised worms for research. Purposes, at some point he decides to “create an alternative self” design: a version of himself designed according to his ideas, without a family and a past. Away from loneliness and alcohol abuse and addiction.

In this way, Wallace is the prototype for all the characters who fill Taylor’s stories. Like Wallace, they would also like to get rid of their fragile or very tight skin immediately – if only they had the courage to do so. His grumpy stories tell of the tough inner battles they have to fight potentially there.

Brandon Taylor: “Before the Jump”
Translated from American English by Maria Homitsch and Michael Schickenberg
Piper Verlag, Munich.
288 pages, 22 euros.

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