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Summary

A Finalist for the 2020 Booker Prize

And the National Book Critics Circle John Leonard Prize

A New York Times Editors' Choice

“A blistering coming of age story” (O: The Oprah Magazine)

Named a Best Book of the Year by The New York TimesThe Washington Post, New York Public Library, Vanity Fair, Elle, NPR, The Guardian, The Paris Review, Harper's BazaarFinancial Times, Huffington Post, BBC, Shondaland, Barnes & Noble, VultureThrillist, VICE, SELF, Electric Literature, and Shelf Awareness

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 introverted young man from Alabama, Black and queer, he has left behind his family without escaping the long shadows of his childhood. For reasons of self-preservation, Wallace has enforced a wary distance even within his own circle of friends - some dating each other, some dating women, some feigning straightness. But over the course of a late-summer weekend, a series of confrontations with colleagues, and an unexpected encounter with an ostensibly straight, White classmate, conspire to fracture his defenses while exposing long-hidden currents of hostility and desire within their community.  

Real Life is a novel of profound and lacerating power, a story that asks if it’s ever really possible to overcome our private wounds, and at what cost.

©2020 Brandon Taylor (P)2020 Penguin Audio

Critic reviews

"[A] stunning debut...Taylor proves himself to be a keen observer of the psychology of not just trauma, but its repercussions.... There is a delicacy in the details of working in a lab full of microbes and pipettes that dances across the pages like the feet of a Cunningham dancer: pure, precise poetry." (Jeremy O. Harris, The New York Times Book Review)

"Equal parts captivating, erotic, smart and vivid...[rendered] with tenderness and complexity, from the first gorgeous sentence of his book to its very last...Taylor is also tackling loneliness, desire and - more than anything - finding purpose, meaning and happiness in one’s own life." (Time)

"[Real Life is] a sophisticated character study of someone squaring self-preservation with a duty to tolerate people who threaten it. The book teems with passages of transfixing description, and perhaps its greatest asset is the force of Wallace’s isolation, which Taylor conveys with alien strangeness." (The New Yorker)

What listeners say about Real Life

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  • Overall
    3 out of 5 stars
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    3 out of 5 stars

Beautiful writing

An author to watch for me. The writing is gorgeous and packs an emotional punch. My first time hearing this narrator too who blew me away - one of the best for sure. The characters are superbly drawn and the dialogue is spot on. But the story itself lacked real jeopardy for me, and whilst the brief love affair sinks into predictable violence, I never really felt frightened for my man. Not sure I would have finished it if it weren’t for the narrator, whose performance was wonderful. I will look out for more by this author as he shows much promise.

4 people found this helpful

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felt the story was not complete

I wanted more from this book, I'm left frustrated about Wallace's job, how it turned out and about his relationship with miller

2 people found this helpful

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Beautiful, well read story

This is about subtle biases, marginalisation, repressed trauma, making one's own narrative and being black, gay, less than perfectly slim in a Midwestern university. Taking place over the course of one weekend the story is delicately crafted and the relationship dynamics finely related. Quite sad although never heavy. The protagonist allows a relatively rare insight into social dynamics which makes it very interesting and engrossing.

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  • Haynes
  • 29-02-20

Not My Gay Real Life

I Loved this book, the performance and the concepts. The meticulous nature of the science, sex and emotions was amazing. When do we get the sequel?

9 people found this helpful

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  • Chanelle G.
  • 27-08-20

Real Life

An honest story of the uncertainty and unfairness of real life and the traumas that get us there

6 people found this helpful

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  • Dennis Sims
  • 08-04-20

Is this real life? Really!

This book did not grasp my attention I had to force myself to read this book. I do not believe this book demonstrate demonstrate it real life one way or the other. I wish that the book had some substance. Substance to where you can grab hold to whether it’s negative or positive. I see no focus no direction in this book.

4 people found this helpful

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  • DS Hearn
  • 30-09-20

Masterful storytelling and narration

This is a strong story - the places, characters, events. I was drawn in immediately by the author's skills. I wanted to know more about these people and their lives.

This is a brilliantly written book. Brandon Taylor's pacing and variation throughout are beautifully done. the story moves well, great pace and details - and he is a master of drawing readers into key moments with a slowing down and focusing in on specific parts of a scene. I enjoyed all of this book - and admire his skill in maneuvering through important current events and issues in this book. I particularly love his scenes involving water and food; some of those places I reread/relistened to, as a writer and not just a reader - I know I've already said this - but he is a master of this moving in and out, speeding us up and slowing us down, writing through the body, heart, entire being.

I enjoyed the narration for the audio version. there was enough variation of character voices to know who was who, but it was not too much to be distracting. His voice is clear, matched the story well, good to listen to. very well done.

I highly recommend this book.

3 people found this helpful

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  • Cynthia Gomez
  • 15-12-20

I read this book for Kid Cudi

I didn’t know what to expect coming into this book. I started listening to it because of Scott Mescudi’s announcement of producing a film out of this story. The plot takes place over a single weekend, and as crazy as that sounds, the author is able to make it the most “real life” weekend. I wish I could write like this. I will definitely be reading more stories like this. I recommend everyone to listen before watching, the book is always deeper than the movie. I’m excited to see what they come up with though.

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  • Adam
  • 04-07-20

indifferent

Towards the end of this book the main character talks about being indifferent to something that just happened to him. That is precisely how I feel about this book. Indifferent

The Good: We have to start with Kevin R. Free. As usual he gives a stellar performance. He knows how to use emotion in his voice without making it too campy. The writing in this novel is beautiful. The words and description leaves nothing to the imagination. For a debut book I think this author has a lot to offer his readers.

The Bad: My biggest gripe with this book is the ending. If you are the type that needs a satisfying ending...or any kind of ending, this isn't the book for you. I honestly felt like we got to this big build up where the characters were going to finally make choices, like a person would do in Real Life, and then it just ended. And because the author has a tendency to jump backwards into the past to explain current characters, characteristics, or relationships I had no idea where the book ended was where it was going to end or needed to end. It felt empty. This isn't the type of book you can just make up your own mind where the story goes from the end.

2 people found this helpful

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  • Ray Paramo
  • 19-08-20

The Title is Appropriate

Much like real life, this novel is beautiful, difficult, dark, and confusing. Taylor's writing style is very poetic and vivid. The characters are likable enough, though I found myself growing frustrated with how much Wallace fails/refuses to communicate. He is aware of so much, but the decisions he makes are often frustrating or self-defeating. I suppose I cannot empathize with his experience. He is deeply pained and faces racism and homophobia on so many levels, but he somehow still persists. He is both an aggravating and commendable character.

My biggest issue with this novel is that it feels unfinished. There is a climax of sorts, but really no resolution. The reader just gets the impression that things will continue, but definite decisions are made. The future of these characters is unclear.

For what it's worth, Kevin R. Free does a great job of narrating, and he did a good job of conveying the emotions of the characters in his dialogue.

1 person found this helpful

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  • Richard
  • 20-03-21

Less is more

Very few writers write this beautifully, not just the prose but in how simple statements or actions provide the depth to understand the characters. A book about alienation, racism, homophobia and it all just spools out amongst a bunch of friends on a weekend. Best book amongst my last 20 or so listens.

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  • Beth Graue
  • 14-03-21

Beautiful

This book is beauty as pain. Written in gorgeous prose it is heartbreaking. Evokes UW in every way.

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  • Cora M. Yao
  • 21-02-21

Impressions of Taylor's Real Life

This book confronts difficult realities for graduate students working equally hard on their research and personal lives. There is much pain in the lives of the characters in both settings. The hopes and dreams of youth are quickly engulfed by insecurities and brashness of new friends and sexual encounters. Finding one's self is an elusive goal, only achieved through both reflections of past family influences and what satisfies them now. Trusting the academic world is difficult and challenging; so is finding a person with whom to share daily life. The contrasts between Black, Asian and white characters are truthfully presented. Wallace and Miller begin to find satisfaction only when they acknowledge their pasts and begin to talk to each other honestly.