Much like his first novel, Real Life, Brandon Taylor’s The Late Americans follows a loosely knit circle of lovers and friends in and around a university in Iowa as they badger, seduce and provoke one another over the span of an academic year. Financial, class and racial divisions are at the core of many of their interactions, as are disputes over the value of art rooted in trauma and concerns about selling out.
The Late Americans lacks a central character; instead, the story flows from one character or pair to the next, leaving the reader to make connections and hold onto each person’s secrets and dreams. The novel opens with a blistering portrayal of a poetry workshop where Seamus is verbally attacked for critiquing a peer’s work, then later he has sex with an older Iowan visiting the hospice facility where Seamus is a cook. From there, the novel switches focus to Goran, Timo and Ivan, all of whom gave up music or dance to pursue business or finance degrees. Noah, who is still studying dance, befriends another dancer in the program, Fatima, who supports herself by working in a cafe and contemplates leaving school after she is assaulted by another student. The novel ends in early summer, when the cast gathers at a cabin in the Adirondack Mountains to bid their former lives goodbye and move into the unknown.
Taylor has previously written stories about ballet, and his plotting and style mirror the art form. In dance, our focus moves from performer to performer, now watching a pas de deux, now a solo. His novel functions similarly, seamlessly shifting our gaze from the individual to the duo, to the group and back again until, almost magically, the story is told and the piece comes to a close. A thought-provoking and lyrical novel about a group of people on the precipice of change, The Late Americans is a perceptive look at passion, sacrifice and intimacy among friends.