Review: An Age of Monsters
William Taylor, Jr.
Fiction | Stories
5” x 8” perfect-bound trade paperback
With photography by Julie Michelle
Epic Rites Press
Review originally published on 7/14/14
Beginning An Age of Monsters, you wonder if the title might be a little hyperbolic — even in the context of its title story. The cover is disarming; the characters, while generally below the moral median, are not overly horrifying. After spending time with the book, though, after taking your time to stare at the cover, the sneering, cupidlike baby, the bland judgmental priests, and reading story after story of ambivalence and moderate depravity, you realize: Taylor isn’t exaggerating at all. What we’ve come to accept as standard is, when seen through the lens of this collection, the acclimation of the terrible. There is precious little redemption in this collection. The men are dolts, easily controlled by substance or sex, and the women, unable to overcome their traumas, control their men and perpetuate the cycle.
In Monsters, Taylor shows us a California full of relatively standard characters, and stories of small exception. It’s not in the single piece that he achieves a victory, but in the slow accretion of disgust, or revulsion, not at the stories but at ourselves for accepting these things as true, and usual, and — here is Taylor’s success — understandable. A boy in a shitty neighborhood frees a tormented cat; a man arrested for a suspended license pays his debt to society one weekend at a time; an alcoholic couple decides to get in the papers the Bonnie and Clyde way (perhaps Taylor’s most bombastic story); a clown, fresh from prison, laments the new state of the world.
The two standout pieces in Monsters are “Tuesday Morning at the Sad Motel” and “The Last Time I Saw Greta,” both involving Ben, a late-twenty-something nobody, and Greta, a young, volatile beauty. Like a number of these stories, nothing much happens in either “Tuesday” or “The Last Time,” but the reader’s understanding and sympathy are what really is at play. In “Tuesday,” we come to accept, without flinching, that Ben can provide Greta with booze and cigarettes — though she’s underage — and simply enjoy being around her because she is strong, beautiful, and, if he’s patient enough, willing. It takes Taylor little time to make Ben someone you don’t exactly root for, but are glad to see roll out of a fire unscathed. Ben has numerous moments of insight that he simply lets pass on by. Often he thinks, of Greta’s various tantrums or problems, that he ought to just keep walking. But he doesn’t. And it’s not until after you’ve digested the story that you realize you’ve been complicit in Ben’s crimes of apathy. Coming away from An Age of Monsters, you have to wonder how often you commit such crimes every day.