Published by Harper Perennial, Everything Here is the Best Thing Ever, which is Justin Taylor’s first collection of stories, manages to come off rather short (and don’t let me start with the utterly misleading title). I went into this collection with the hopes of being “wowed” with the narratives he has written. With a blurb from Padgett Powell that describes his stories as something that pays debt to Donald Barthelme, and pieces that possess a “strange undertow of Phillip Roth,” one cannot help but have much enthusiasm when one begins to read the works. I was fooled. Severely fooled.
Admittedly, I did enjoy the narratives, at least at some point. I was a bit amused by its hipster appeal and its characterization of the cultural movement that, for the first time in history, is suddenly thrown into a negative light. Here we have narratives that namedrop critics and philosophers like Derida, Lacan, and Nietzsche (a pastime of hipsters), stories which give cultural references to pop music icons, like The Pixies, and fictional realities where junkies, pseudo-artists, juveniles who believe that they are creating “high-art,” anarchists who do not create any action that can be called anarchic, men and women who have open-relationships ( those who are in a “yes, we’re in a relationship, but we screw other people in various other acrobatic positions” kind of shitty setup), coke addicts, Goth girls who obsess over witchcraft, and working stiffs who try to break out of their formal and dull lives at night by getting fucked up, literally and metaphorically, exist. It’s amusing to see them. The effort made to satirize them is entertaining. It’s enjoyable to read about them, to laugh at them, to pity them, or to feel compassion for the ordeals they are going through.
The language and narration used is also something which I rather relished in. I like its contemporary feel, its sheer informal and conversational tone. It’s almost as if a friend is telling me this story, and it gives much comfort for the reader. But that’s just that. I didn’t like anything else, nor did I find anything intellectually and literarily engaging. There’s just something, a great “something”, that lacked.
The premises are interesting, granted that. But the attack made on them is childish, and frankly, rather shallow. The characters are flat: drunken kids who stare at the bleakness of the world, lacking the intention and willpower to do something about their destitute and devestating lives, which, from a certain point of view, is not that bad. If the intention of any fiction is to highlight and explore a specific aspect of the human condition/experience, this stories barely does it. They are initiation/coming of age stories that don’t have any initiation or grand coming of age epiphany at all. And they’re too short, just too damn short, when there is enough space to go around and explore more these characters. The stories just lack, just lack a lot of the things one looks for in a good short story or in an adequate collection.
There is a great writer somewhere inside Justin Taylor and I just hope to God this writer comes out in The Gospel of Anarcy, his first novel, which just came out earlier this year.