Much like their characters, the stories in Lisa C. Taylor’s Growing a New Tail are full of potential. Some are fully realised, while others feel as if they are not quite finished.
One of my favourite stories in the collection, in which the potential is realised, is the final piece, “Leash Laws”. Here, many of Taylor’s best qualities as a writer are on display. She fully inhabits the narrator’s world in a psychiatric hospital—and, more impressively, her mind—without condescension or a sense of voyeurism. For the duration of “Leash Laws”, she believes in the world as it exists for the protagonist, and the story—and the reader—are better for it. My favourite line in the piece occurs on the first page of the story and sets the tone: “No one knows when his or her tree-time will come.” The language is strong here, existing in sympathy with the protagonist. “Earthy Top Note”, a story that takes on the perspective of a dead man from a very unusual angle, similarly shows what Taylor can do when she follows through with an idea.
Many of the other stories feature the same attention to detail and interest in their characters, but they suffer from rushed or abrupt endings. The climaxes of such stories take the reader by surprise, and while this structure furthers the plot in some cases, when used so frequently, it loses its freshness. The reasoning for this structure is clear—these are characters about to change their lives or experiencing a moment of epiphany. Yet in stories like “Visible Wounds”, for example, the story cuts off shortly after it piques my interest. Much of the story up to that point feels like setup, but the reader never sees the main action. The brevity of the story requires the narrative to fit too much information into too little space, leading to more telling than showing—which, though eloquent, makes some passages feel too on-the-nose.
Overall, the collection benefits significantly from Taylor’s poetic writing background and observational skills, with the source of most issues being either plot structure or an otherwise not fully fleshed out concept. I am left with an impression of a series of story ideas, some of which are expanded upon fully and meet their mark, while others could use more development.