First Fiction Fridays: Pauls

Jess Taylor’s debut Pauls, a semi-interconnected collection of short stories about people named Paul, friends of Pauls, loved ones of Pauls. It explores the contemporary benchmark of “good enough”, the pain we inflict on others and routinely, on ourselves, and our short-lived escapes: all in prose that is “magical and penetrating” (Heather O’Neill, author of Lullabies for Little Criminals).


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Pauls (BookThug, 2015)Who: Jess Taylor. Jess Taylor is a writer and poet based in Toronto, Ontario. She is the founder of the Emerging Writers Reading Series and is the fiction editor of Little Brother Magazine. Her work has been published in a variety of journals, magazines, and newspapers, including This Magazine, CNQ, and The National Post. Her first pamphlet chapbook, And Then Everyone (Picture Window Press) was released in April 2014, followed by her first full-length chapbook, Never Stop (Anstruther Press) in October 2014. Jess also received the Gold 2013 National Magazine Award in Fiction for her short story “Paul.” This October, BookThug will be publishing her debut short story collection, Pauls.Why you need to read this now:Pauls is a book of semi-interconnected short stories about people named Paul. In it Paul, who may or may not be the same Paul, confronts his doubles in a clearing in the woods; stays up to watch the sunrise with his grieving roommate, Claire; witnesses a murder; gets lost in a field of long, sweet grass; thinks she’s pregnant with her fuck-buddy’s baby; is diagnosed with a blood disorder; experiences the aftermath of trauma; crashes a backyard BBQ full of monstrous children and philandering adults; writes letters to a teenage girl in hopes of seducing her; and dates a degenerate while an ice storm freezes the streets of Toronto. Each of these stories sizzles with an emotional intensity that creates ten contained worlds of voices both unique and familiar.Paul speaks to a certain worldview of the present, a kind of Zeitgeist that recognizes the old version of ambition no longer applies, the future does not exist, and the present needs to be redeemed through negotiations with those immediately and intimately connected to you. A Zeitgeist that aims for being content with being okay rather than necessarily being happy. A restless Zeitgeist, but one that will try to recognize something good when it arrives, as fleeting as that may be. The storytelling goes beyond its catchy and quirky premise to say something real about people and what it means to be young, troubled, free, trapped, searching, in love, rejected, and most of all human. Pauls and their friends, romantic partners, and family are constantly trying to find their place in the world by escaping to stolen places – rooftops and fields, clearing and forests, fire escapes and city streets. By seeking refuge in these everyday places, true escape is shown to be impossible, or that if it is possible, it is only for brief moments through the characters’ imaginations.The collection intelligently interrogates the trauma caused by men against the women they know, or by boys against the girls they know, and the lasting effects on daily life; the circles of behaviour that seem without exit, from abuse to drug and alcohol use, paired with the precariousness of employment and tenuous belief systems of the present. The men in the collection strain against what is expected of them the same way the women do, trying to break the patterns of their pasts. Despite its dark themes, the absurd humour and wise irony of the prose will invigorate readers. It is this balance that will make readers excited to have the book in their hands, wanting to remain with the characters and feeling secure wrapped in the words of an exacting storyteller. Because of the subtle connections between stories, the book stands up to multiple readings, as a reader visits each world again, watching for the places the stories overlap and wondering about the places left open, the gaps. Pauls Book Trailer What others are saying about Pauls:“A magical and penetrating collection.” –Heather O’Neill”…Taylor offers chilling assessments of our mainstays — family, work, love, sex, and romance — with a clinical precision.” –Brett Josef Grubisic, Toronto Star“…a brave and honest collection of ten interconnected short stories that explores people—how they hurt each other and are hurt by each other, how they cope and navigate the world.” –Kayla Czaga, Prism Magazine Interview***Big thanks to author Jess Taylor and BookThug fiction editor Malcolm Sutton for collaborating on this piece, and to Hazel Millar at BookThug for sending it our way.