A cult emerges from a punk/hippie sanctuary in this mordant first novel from the author of the story collection Everything Here Is the Best Thing Ever (2010).
Like other college towns, Gainesville, Fla., is a haven for alternative lifestyles. David is slow to catch on, but in his junior year, everything changes for this liberal arts major. A relationship ends; he loses interest in his courses; he stays home masturbating before his laptop, then throws it in the tub in self-disgust. Salvation comes when he runs into two Dumpster divers, Thomas and Liz. He knows Thomas from their suburban Miami childhood. They take him back to Fishgut, their dilapidated house with its floating population of punks. There he meets Katy, and his emancipation is complete. He’s dropped out. She’s a generous earth-mother type, as willing to share her body with this newcomer as with her girlfriend Liz. (Taylor writes sex wonderfully well.) She’s also a self-styled Anarchristian, happily blending anarchy and Christianity, unlike those uptight Catholic students at the church reception they attend for a goof (and for the free food). What really fires Katy up is her discovery of a notebook buried in their yard. It belonged to Parker, Fishgut’s mysterious founder. Katy takes its religious and philosophical ramblings as the ultimate truth, the Gospel. David, now her ardent disciple, edits it with her into a pamphlet, perfect for the Millennium (the story is set in 1999). Not everyone is sold; Thomas, an atheist Jew, leaves Fishgut for the Battle of Seattle after maliciously inserting a line of bull into the Gospel. Taylor’s nimble analysis of these schisms recalls T.C. Boyle’s Drop City, but he lacks Boyle’s sense of direction. That might have taken us to Parker, who remains an enigma, while Katy’s further development stalls. Excerpts from the Gospel serve as filler, and momentum drains away among a variety of voices.
Taylor nails The Scene, but at the expense of the story.