FILTHY ANIMALS by Taylor Brandon (Daunt Books £9.99, 272 pp)


by Taylor Brandon (Daunt Books £9.99, 272 pp)  

Booker-nominee Taylor Brandon delves into the messy lives of teenagers and young graduates in his debut collection. 

On a cold November in an American Midwestern university town, apartments, icy streets and pine-scented hills are the settings for charged confrontations and wavering, inexplicable feelings.

The book opens with Potluck, which sees Lionel, delicate and recovering from a suicide attempt, enter the unsettling orbit of dancers Charlie and Sophie; a provoking, physically confident couple who slowly erode his withdrawal from the world.

Elsewhere, a group of uneasy, bantering teenage boys allow their violent tempers to crush any hidden tenderness in their hearts (Filthy Animals), while in Anne Of Cleves, a woman who has only ever dated men finds herself drawn, irresistibly, to another woman. Brimful of beautifully drawn characters, at the mercy of their bewildering emotions, Brandon is a brilliantly engaging story-teller.


by Elizabeth McCracken (Cape £14.99, 256 pp)    

The beguiling Jack and Sadie make their first appearance in uproarious The Irish Wedding and reappear throughout this scintillating collection at different emotional milestones in their enduring, occasionally fractious, relationship.

Sadie is small, plump, blonde, and entirely beloved by her mother; Jack is tall, thin, with eyes as black as Bakelite, and has never been coddled, as Sadie finds out when she meets his family for the first time. Brusque and British, they are breezily dismissive of their only son.

It’s pitch perfect; funny, melancholy and alight with the kind of sharp observations that reveal the fault lines in relationships and family dynamics.

From gay dads in Robinson Crusoe At The Waterpark, continually caught between ‘uncertainty and catastrophe’, to the forgetful father in Proof, McCracken cracks open the hearts of her captivating characters. 

CHEMISTRY by Tim Pears (Bloomsbury £16.99, 272 pp)


by Tim Pears (Bloomsbury £16.99, 272 pp)   

Tim Pears is best known for his wonderful, lyrical, pastoral The West Country trilogy; here he heads into the contemporary world and the moments that can darken or illuminate a life.

These stories of warring brothers, family strife, rave culture, creativity and early parenthood are all given the same wise consideration, and described with an unerring, kindly exactitude.

A bereaved soldier’s wife relentlessly digs a vegetable garden to cope with her grief (Harvest), and ends up with a serving of new potatoes and a glimmer of hope.

In Hunters In The Forest, a bunch of boyish men head out on an unseasonal shooting trip; their quarry is deer, but fog, quarrels and their own ineptitude reduce all their futures to a sharp left-curving bend on a lonely New Forest Road. 

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