Short stories carry a large task- to quickly grab a reader’s attention, as well as to develop an engaging story and flesh out characters in significantly fewer pages than a novel has to do so. In Flings, Justin Taylor creates a series of tales that are simply snippets of the lives of a wide array of characters, all of whom are trying to figure out just how they fit in the world around them.
The beginning of each story jumps right into painting a vivid picture of protagonist and setting, with diverse places serving as backgrounds- New York City, Florida, Hong Kong, and others. Somehow, even with so few pages, each conflict builds up gradually, though oftentimes, very little resolution follows. The endings of the stories aren’t necessarily abrupt, but they do often stop at the end of a scene that might not see the main character in a place very different than the beginning.
While many of the characters are young adults, with the typical accompanying challenges of being at a stage in life when many significant decisions are expected, there were also a few interesting depictions of both older and younger characters whose own struggles shared similar themes in different contexts.
In what might have been my favorite of the stories offered here- Saint Wade- a relationship between neighbors blossoms out of a shared “what the heck” attitude. It’s pleasant enough, and the man and woman fall into a routine that works to their mutual advantage, but there isn’t much love or warmth to be felt by the witnessing readers. The pain of this story seeps in slowly, until an ending comes along that offers up a lyrical revelation in place of resolution as the man watches a flock of starlings swooping over a field:
“. . . staring at all these birds swooping and maneuvering, sometimes descending back into the branches but never letting more than a few seconds pass before they rose up again, and always together, all as one. Up and back down and back up and they just kept going. It looked to me like they didn’t know whether they were free or stuck.”
That closing line unites the varied stories in this engaging collection. Even though only a handful of the stories overlap in characters or setting, they all share in this idea of longing. While they may not be terribly upbeat, they certainly are thoughtful and wonderful to take in.