Everything Here Is the Best Thing Ever by Justin Taylor is a young author’s nearly perfect collection of short stories. Taylor writes about the youth of America who have been sidelined by society, with a captivating and paradoxical combination of the rawness of a first work and the gleaming polish of a natural wordsmith.
Youth, religion, and rebellion are some of the themes tackled with a keen eye in Everything Here. Taylor’s protagonists are the losers whom gentile society often turns away from in embarrassment. But with beautiful literary skill, he makes us reexamine these lives that too often seem lost, and recognize the humanity, the striving, the sadness and the quiet hope that exists in rural and counterculture America.
If there is anything still taboo in this world, Taylor covers it in his at times embarrassingly frank stories. There is a sadness that often comes along with the shock, as in “In My Heart I Am Already Gone,” which ends with the narrator’s aunt catching him in the act of sniffing his young cousin’s panties after killing their cat per his uncle’s requests. But is Taylor just writing incestuous lechery, or is he legitimately questioning the way we are trapped by social mores. Taylor’s illicitness is not mundane, but neither is it malevolent. You cannot always relate to it, but it is so honest that you try.
Along with taboo subjects, Taylor knows how to write so that the reader responds viscerally. In “New Life,” a lovesick young boy blackmails a high school girl’s obsequious best friend in order to win the right to bind himself to the girl, his first love, by letting the friend slice him open and spill his blood in a magic ceremony that is meant to keep the girl close to them both, but that instead goes tragically awry.
Jewishness is a theme in several of his stories, and it serves as a means for exploring issues of religion and group identification in general. Sometimes, as in the arguments between a devoutly Jewish father and a more skeptical son in “Tennessee,” Taylor forgoes subtlety in favor of making a point. This is also evident in “The Jealousy of Angels,” when Satan explains to a young man who has just had his girlfriend stolen by an angel and with whom he has been watching television, “They keep your days filled with the piddling shit so you don’t have the time or the heart to go after the big stuff.” But it is hard to fault Taylor for wanting to say something definitive, especially when so much of his writing is ambiguous.