Jess Taylor’s second short-story collection is a bold examination of the contemporary underbelly of women’s desires. The stories centre on nuances of longing that are much more interesting than those found in many mainstream narratives: the gross bits; fleeting, horrible Tinder-era flings; and even a refreshing take on queer polyamory (in “A Story About Our Friends Lana and Tia”). Taylor writes about women’s desires across life stages very well, particularly in “So Raw You Can’t Sit,” which follows a septuagenarian protagonist taking up with a new partner in the face of judgment and chronic pain.
Taylor’s prose is beautiful and cutting. In the title story, Taylor writes, “If you think you’re someone who could never hurt anyone, you’re lying … you’ve never experienced anything.” A character storming into a bar from the cold outside, the steam on the glass, and the traumatic desperation seeping out of her chills the reader. These stories are cruel and unflinching about everything: characters, events, even the recurring Toronto scenery. Taylor touches on some really lucid relationship dynamics – particularly the grittier, more regrettable short-term kind.
The highlight in this collection, with a caveat, is that title story. “Just Pervs” is about a group of tweens who write a play about their intense fantasies; when their peers find it and react by calling them pervs, they reclaim the epithet as their group name. The story primarily follows Jill and Jenade, whose relationship fluctuates between sexual, romantic, and platonic. The story is written in fragments and cast as diary entries or correspondence over a series of years. Though this story has the strongest writing and most interesting character dynamics, the narrative arc is slightly pulpy and gratuitous.
Some of Taylor’s stories fall flat in their extreme cruelty. There is merit in reading about horrible characters making horrible decisions, but there is a very fine balance in getting it right. Some stories veer into the realm of unbearable bleakness or cliché, or push their edginess too far. Others, however, hit the sweet spot, being just cruel enough in ways both delightful and sadly relatable.