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Real Life by Brandon Taylor

Real Life is an emotional, delicate story about real, ordinary life, about what real life makes of us, how life changes and influences people throughout their lives, how it makes them come to conclusions about life itself. It is a story about abuse, rape, cruelty, inequality, racism, (abusive) relationships, insecurities, religious fanaticism and primitivism, the difficulty of living in the world if you are different than most people surrounding you. Wallace is a hard-working, sensitive, black, gay, small-town biochemistry student, lost in a new big town, lost among people, lost among test tubes and colleagues in the lab.

The novelty of this novel is not in its theme, plot nor narration, but in the emotion, in a unique delicacy of the emotion that is conveyed to the reader. It has an unusual feel, although it is written in the 3rd person, it seems as if it was written not only in the 1st person, but as if it was – pure emotion, as if we were reading pure thoughts, pure feelings of a person. Such intimate prose that reads almost as poetry.

“You have to let it go if you’re going to keep moving, if you’re going to survive, because the past doesn’t need a future. It has no use for what comes next. The past is greedy, always swallowing you up, always taking. If you don’t hold it back, if you don’t dam it up, it will spread and take and drown.
The past is not a receding horizon. Rather, it advances one moment at a time, marching steadily forward until it has claimed everything and we become again who we were; we become ghosts when the past catches us. I can’t live as long as my past does. It’s one or the other.”

Wallace is trying to forget his rough past, hoping he could forget about all of his hardship and start all over again in a new place, without history. But, that is impossible. As he already knows best, violence begets violence. His mother was raped and accused of being responsible for the rape by her own mother. When he gets raped (under her watch), his mother is the one to accuse him of being responsible for his rape as well. He was abused and keeps getting abused again and again. Ending violence, cruelty and hate seems an impossible task. He might have gotten away from home, but he keeps getting into the same old violence and cruelty in his relationships, feeling that is what he deserves and needs, or just the only thing he knows.

“Cruelty, Wallace thinks, is really just the conduit of pain. It conveys pain from one place to another – from the place of highest concentration to the place of lowest concentration, in the same way heat flows. It is a delivery system, as in the way that certain viruses convey illness, disease, irreparable harm. They’re all infected with pain, hurting each other.”

Everything is just a question of perspective, what does everything look like from a bird perspective? From a perspective not our own? We can never be sure. Every person thinks that their own problems are the worst, the most complicated, unsolvable, thinking that others don’t have to struggle with anything. What has the world come to when we have to compare whose position is worse, prejudices against whom bigger or more severe? Not better, but worse.

“As he goes farther and farther down the steps, he can feel Miller get farther and farther away, higher above him. There will come a moment when he passes directly beneath Miller’s sightline, when they will be closest they possibly can be. And to someone looking higher up they will appear identical, one laid over the other. But there is a difference between entering someone, being in someone and being with that person. There is an impossibility to the idea of simultaneously existing within them and beside them, the fact that when you get close enough to someone you cease to be discreet identities and instead become a single surface glittering in the sun.”

It is hard to say the truth to people, your true thoughts and feelings, because that is not what they want to hear, what they can cope with. At the same time Wallace is aware that university problems for his friends shall pass, but his won’t, he will always have to work harder and have less than others.

“This is why Wallace never tells anyone anything. This is why he keeps the truth to himself, because other people don’t know what to do with your shit, with the reality of other people’s feelings. They don’t know what to do when they’ve heard something that does not align with their own perception of things.”

The ending is interesting, bringing us back to the time before the beginning of the story, bringing us to the beginning of Wallace’s studies when he first met his colleagues and became friends with them, everything was new and fresh, everything was hopeful. They were all hopeful then, feeling a new life coming on. Oh how wrong they all were, how naïve they were, how childish, because that is not real life. Real life is hard, difficult and cruel, that is all we can expect from it.

This is not a light novel, but rather a grim and depressive one. A novel before which you have to take a deep breath and then start reading. I enjoyed the novelty in the way the emotion was conveyed to the reader and I see its literary value, but it was not my taste at all, something was lacking for me to see it as a great novel. Maybe it was the feeling it left me with, an unresolved feeling of nausea. That could sometimes be a good thing, but not for me in this novel.

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