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<i>Real Life</i>. By Brandon Taylor. Riverhead, 2020. 336pp. HB, $26.

Kiss and Tell

There is a strain of Black campus novel that is obsessed with “realness.” I can trace its origins to Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man, in which the narrator leads his college’s white trustee on a darkly comic and ill-fated tour of the Black homes, brothel, and mental hospital full of Black patients that lie just outside his historically Black college’s campus. Ellison does not necessarily posit these grotesqueries as any “realer” than the Black university professor who expels the narrator and undermines his trip to New York; but, rather, the tension rests on the danger of the white trustee assuming that the degradation he saw is Black people’s true nature—untouched by white oppression and unredeemable by education.

No Republican Shall Inherit

Jared: “Now this was the mid seventies. I was on an airbase in Florida. We had to keep the fighter planes loaded because, you see, this was only twelve years after the missile crisis. We had to be ready. Who knew what the Russians were up to? We were geared up. We were ready to fight.”

The Jack Bank

No, there will never be any shortage of labels; but at core, these academic designations will always remain, for me, rather bloodless. They will dance around my mind, flimsy moth-shadows; from time to time they will make cameo appearances in my conceptual framework—handy epithets with which to classify and organize the experience. By they will never embody it. For that I must dig deeper into my recollections, into the sights and smells and tastes of them, the imagery, texture, and moods of John, his voice, his cricket bat, and, at the end of it all, his jack bank.