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Publisher's 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)

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What listeners say about Real Life

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  • Overall
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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?

6 people found this helpful

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  • Matt
  • 20-02-20

Patience is a virtue

For a story with complex, insightful and deeply sensitive characters.. they are incredibly bad at communicating with each other. Like, frustratingly bad. It is obvious Wallace ( the main character) is extremely intelligent and faces racial & prejudicial challenges/obstacles on the reg; the guy bottles up those emotions and quite effectively pass them along to the reader.

The story is told at a painfully slow pace in my opinion, which does allow for the massive amount of detail and insight to be transferred.

They story us beautifully written in contrast to the pace, I am extremely confused about how I feel other than gratitude that I am not openly gay or black, and I know that is a terrible thing to say since I am neither racist or homophobic.

I honestly had to stop this book with a little more than 3 hours left to go because of how hard it was to listen. So, my review is incomplete.

My favorite character is Tom. The guy that just avoids hanging out with this particular circle of friends/colleges.

Yes this book does mimic “real life”, judgments at all.

4 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

3 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.

2 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.

1 person 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.

1 person found this helpful

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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.

1 person found this helpful

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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.

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  • Ayse
  • 30-12-20

not awe inspiring

I did not like it, increased the speed. Was there wisdom here? Did I learn anything? Did it inspire me? Am I wiser? no no no and no.

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  • Barbara
  • 01-12-20

A Tediously Book About Nothing

The only reddening element was some of the imagery was good.

The main character is a milquetoast man who can't quite figure out who the is or what he wants. it's not some existential quest, just a man drifting along like flotsam.

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  • Nicky D
  • 15-11-20

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.

3 people found this helpful

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  • Waggy From Derby
  • 08-01-21

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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  • Russell
  • 21-10-20

Extremely DULL!!

An EXTREMELY dull book with no real storyline. As it’s so short I persisted, waiting for something to happen ..... but it didn’t.
The Author tries to add shock value and interest by including an abusive background story for main character and homosexuality, but the events are so unrelated the narrative just becomes confusing & unpalatable.

1 person found this helpful

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  • Jill
  • 12-11-20

Just boring

This is probably important for young gay men but it is meant to be a story not just a series of vague descriptions and suppositions.

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  • uma
  • 27-10-20

Beautiful but bleak

Writing was gorgeously poetic and I think the narrator did it justice. The perspective on the world is a bleak one, so not one for a muggy, rainy week in isolation...