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Flings: Stories by Justin Taylor

Flings: Stories

by Justin Taylor

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As the title of this collection (also the title of the first story) implies, the main theme running through Justin Taylor's Flings is that of relationships, both sexual and emotional. Friendships, marriages, crushes, and blood relations all come into play in short stories that (for the most part - there are some exceptions) focus on seemingly mundane or commonplace lives and situations, but in doing so clearly demonstrates through characterization and nuance how these events both contribute to and are influenced by the relationships the people create, preserve, abandon, or ignore. Family plays just as important a role as romance does in this collection, as many of the stories deal with the relationships between generations, with divorce and heritage coming into play repeatedly.

Some of Taylor's stories are told in a sweeping, biographical narrative that travels through years - even decades - of history, while others walk us almost minute-by-minute through snapshots of daily lives tormented by loss or, even worse, the distance that sometimes divides those close to one another. Alienation and abandonment, obsession and disenchantment, communication and reflection; Taylor's Flings shuffles us through the myriad of forms that relationships can take, and exposes us to a behind-the-scenes showcase of how our connections to others can either wither or bloom.

If there is a flaw in this collection, it is the inclusion of the story Sungold. With the exception of Sungold, a brilliantly funny piece that is my personal favorite, the stories in Flings are either subdued or dramatic, and the humor (if any) is at best understated. Stumbling into Sungold four stories into the collection leads one to expect at least one or two other pieces of similar tone and lends to a slight feeling of disappointment upon completion. A great story, but ultimately a rather glaring Odd Man Out.
  smichaelwilson | Aug 5, 2015 |
Flings: Stories by Justin Taylor, a book of short stories, is interesting, but ultimately unsatisfying. The blurb on the back names Taylor “A master of the modern snapshot” and they might well be right. The book is like a stack of Polaroids, taken by strangers and with no context to explain them. (Think Awkward Family Photos.) They are fascinating, funny, vaguely disturbing, but by themselves, they aren’t enough to tell a story.

As always, I wanted to love the book – I love short stories, in particular, and I always want to love the books I settle down to read – but I found this one easy to put down. That’s never a good sign. While the stories were interesting, they weren’t absorbing and they weren’t satisfying. A good example is Mike’s Song, a story about a divorced father taking his adult children to a Phish concert. There is some hint that the divorce was his fault – probably something to do with his new girlfriend, Lori, who may or may not be cheating on him, based on some misdirected texts – and there is some random reference to a neighborhood boy who committed suicide back when his kids were in their teens. It is most definitely a snapshot. It’s an odd, awkward night with this family, full of tense undertones and secrets no one talks about. I can see why some people might be fascinated with it, the way you can be fascinated staring into a lighted window, watching the family inside and wondering about them, but in the end? I wasn’t drawn in. I didn’t care how it ended — which is a good thing because it doesn’t end, not in the sense that anything is wrapped up and resolved. We learn a few things about them, Mike learns a few things about his kids, but you don’t get any sense of what will come of that knowledge. We walk past the window and on to another one.

One story I felt was much more successful was After Ellen – Scott leaves his girlfriend because she suggests getting a dog and he can suddenly see his whole life stretching out before him. The dog is just the start, the test before they have kids, get a house in the suburbs, a minivan, a carpool, etc., etc., etc. So he takes off, sneaking out while Ellen is at work, taking his half of their stuff, the car, and leaving her a note. He crashes in an expensive hotel with Mom and Dad’s credit card, and eventually finds a new place, a new gig as a DJ, a new girlfriend…and a dog. It goes somewhere. It has some resolution to it.

Now, there may be people who really appreciate these kinds of snapshot stories; apparently, I’m not one of them. The book, for me, was like seeing Waiting for Godot: I spent the whole time waiting for something to happen, feeling like there were clues and allusions that I was missing. There’s a fair amount of graphic sex in the stories that seems sprinkled in at random, more for shock value than anything else; for me, it didn’t seem to serve the story. While I enjoyed some of the writing and found interesting bits in most of the stories, overall, they left me unsatisfied. It was easy to put the book down and walk away because even the stories I finished felt unfinished. ( )
  LisaLynne | Jan 29, 2015 |
completed 1.1.15, 3 stars ( )
  bookmagic | Jan 4, 2015 |
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Collects twelve stories of men and women living through uncertainty about their futures.

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