A Review of “The Late Americans” is Sending Book Twitter Into A Tailspin
Users have shown their ire for a comparison between the writing in Brandon Taylor's latest novel and his tweets.
Brandon Taylor is out with his third book, a highly-anticipated campus novel titled The Late Americans, and reviews are rolling in — one of which is gaining not-so-positive traction on Twitter.
Taylor, an editor-at-large for Electric Literature's Recommended Reading, quickly launched into literary success with his debut Real Life, which was shortlisted for both the Booker Prize and the National Book Critics Circle John Leonard Prize in 2020. His most recent work, The Late Americans, centers on the interconnected lives of a group of artists — many of whom are MFA graduates at a Midwestern university — as they struggle to make sense of their art, their relationships, and themselves.
In a recent Slate review, books and culture columnist Laura Miller discussed the wave of newly established authors who are pushed by their publicists to join Twitter and boost their work. Since joining the app in 2011, Taylor has managed to cultivate an organic following of over 90,000 people due to his funny quips, confessionals, and astute observations. "If a parasocial relationship can ever be wholesome, the way that I... feel about Taylor's Twitter account comes pretty close," she says.
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The praise she offers is mainly limited to Taylor's Twitter, however. "In contrast to Taylor's less formal online writing...his fiction feels disappointingly stunted, as if the full range of Taylor's own experience has been narrowed to fit the Iowa workshop mold," Miller says (Taylor earned his MFA at the University of Iowa). This is the crux of her criticism — but the negative response comes from the fact that Miller affirms her position by comparing Taylor's Internet writing to that of the language in his novel. This has prompted an interesting discussion about expectations for writers and the conflation of their online and literary personas.
"There is a strange thing that happens when you have a strong social media presence and a writing career," author Roxane Gay tweeted about the review. "The number of times I've had an event and been introduced mostly in reference to my Twitter feed instead of my actual work is... very high." Perhaps this speaks to the way people view authors, who often share a mix of personal and professional posts while also interacting with their readers on social media.
The discourse around parasocial relationships is not new — this happens when users begin to believe they know their faves personally and may overstep by doing things like sharing traumatic stories or offering unsolicited advice. It's unsurprising, then, that a reader would become disappointed by an author's latest work, which doesn't read like an offhanded social media post.
Some felt that readers misinterpreted her message. "The argument isn't 'Brandon Taylor should write novels like he tweets...' but rather that his tweets have an insight his novel[s] lack," one user said. Miller shares quotes from The Late Americans to showcase her dislike for Taylor's "heavy cloak of figurative language," comparing them to his more informal Substack essays where he draws vivid pictures with a kind of ease that is missing in his novel. "It may be possible to write a novel about people slogging through directionless lives without the novel becoming a slog itself, but Taylor hasn't done that," she said.
The author shared his thoughts on the matter further, tweeting, "I feel like if you are going to moralize about the response to the article creating a hostile environment for real criticism without also moralizing about the underlying racism, classism, and homophobia that is the real objection to the review, then you are also racist." Other critics of Miller agreed, describing the piece as, "Absolutely cringe-inducing, and... apparently uncritical [about Miller's] belief that this Black queer writer should only be her parasocial bestie."
While the lines between an author's personas are often blurred due to social media, they are still distinct. Miller's review is a good reminder to examine our expectations of authors as we engage with them, from their Internet profiles to their writing.
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