Real Life and Emotional Alienation

Throughout the new novel, Real Life, by Brandon Taylor, the main character, Wallace, fails to foster a single healthy relationship due to his inability to access his emotions and tendency to utilize his scientific nature, which leaves him observing others rather than socializing with them. One example where Taylor dramatizes one of Wallace’s unhealthy relationships occurs in his professional life with Simone and Dana. Wallace takes abuse from both, and they both prevent him from being able to work uninterrupted and efficiently. Wallace is trapped between calmly accepting this abuse and lashing out against them, and this duality leads him to do neither thing effectively. Wallace’s attitude also affects his relationships with his friends, such as Cole and Vincent. Cole and Wallace have always been close, and as a result Vincent is aggressive toward Wallace. Vincent is overly confrontational, and often tries to begin altercations or confront Wallace about the issues Vincent thinks he is causing. In this way, Wallace and Vincent’s relationship is similar to Wallace and Dana’s. When Vincent cheats on Cole and Wallace calls him out, he spins the blame onto Wallace, and Wallace accepts it. Living as a black gay man in the Midwest, he often experiences condescension from his white friends: sometimes subtle, sometimes outright. It is rooted in many of his interactions. He is so accustomed to coping with these aggressions that he cannot speak up–partially because they won’t understand, and partially because he is used to limiting the space he occupies. Especially as a child, Wallace was conditioned to believe in his insignificance, and had to create barriers to try to protect himself from these intense emotions. As he moves further from his past, Wallace becomes familiar with alienation from the people he is surrounded by: Alienation as a gay, black man in a white institution, alienation from emotion, and alienation as an outsider in his friend group.  

Art by Stephanie Singleton – On the volatility and solitude of working in science
This entry was posted in 2020 Booker Short List novels, Literature Circles aka #litcircles and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

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