Review of ‘Do We Not Bleed?’ by Daniel Taylor

Daniel Taylor, Do We Not Bleed? (Eugene, OR: Slant, 2017).

I have a big problem with Daniel Taylor’s new “Jon Mote Mystery,” as the cover describes Do We Not Bleed? To wit: A book this good should have a sequel ready for me to take up once I’ve put this one down. Unfortunately, fans of Taylor’s (now) two novels about Jon and his sister Judy will just have to wait for (what I hope to be) a third novel in the not-too-distant future.

Do We Not Bleed? follows the events of Death Comes for the Deconstructionist, Taylor’s first book in this series. (Does a pair constitute a series?) Jon has begun to recover from the psychological wounds he was experiencing in the first book. He has become an employee at New Directions, a care facility for developmentally disabled and cognitively impaired persons at which his older sister Judy, who has Downs Syndrome, lives.

Most of the novel focuses on the ups and downs of living with the people Jon has come to call “Specials” (as opposed to “Normals”). He—that is Jon, in whose voice Daniel Taylor writes —humanizes his charges in a way that had me laughing and crying, empathizing with their plight, and gaining a new critical perspective on the way “Normals” think and talk about and act toward “Specials.” Hint: We “Normals,” who are far less normal and far more special than we often think, too often treat our fellow humans as problems to be solved rather than as “friends” to be loved and loved by. That is, in my opinion, the most critical insight of this wise, deeply humane book.

How badly we treat “Specials” becomes especially apparent when one of the New Directions residents is murdered, and one of Jon’s charges is blamed. Jon, Judy, and company know their friend is innocent, but the evidence seems stacked up against that person, at least stacked high enough to move them to a locked-facility for the criminally insane—though without trial. Resolving this case becomes Jon’s and Judy’s and friends’ mission. I’ll let you read Do We Not Bleed? to find out the result.

Daniel Taylor writes beautifully, his characters are interesting, he wears his humanity on his sleeve, and—like I said above—the only shame is that there isn’t already a sequel to this beautiful novel that I can begin reading today.

As a series reader, I encourage you to pick up Death Comes for the Deconstructionist before you read Do We Need Bleed? It’s an excellent novel on its own right, but it provides the background to this story. So, read it first!

P.S. If you found my review helpful, please vote “Yes” on my review page.

[REVISED] Review of ‘Death Comes for the Deconstructionist’ by Daniel Taylor

Death-Comes-for-the-DeconstructionistDaniel Taylor, Death Comes for the Deconstructionist (Eugene, OR: Slant, 2014).

Daniel Taylor’s Death Comes for the Deconstructionist is a story about a man, a murder, and a movement.

The man is Jon Mote, grad school dropout (all but dissertation), soon-to-be ex-huband and researcher for hire who is asked to look into the death of his former dissertation director, Richard Pratt. The murder victim, Pratt, was a Deconstructionist literarature professor whose luster, once avant-garde, is already becoming passé. The movement is Deconstructionism, which is complex and hard to explain, but for the purposes of this book holds that words point only to other words, not a reality outside themselves. Assertions of inherent meaning are really, then, just power plays between groups. In killing off Richard Pratt, then, Daniel Taylor kills of Deconstructionism too.

Taylor is an insightful stylist. Any number of sentences caught my eye, but this one about Baptists made me laugh out loud: “But they were Swedish Baptists, not Texas Baptists, so even though they thought you were going to hell if you didn’t believe in Jesus, they at least felt bad about it.” There’s a lot of truth—about Baptists, Swedes, and Texans—wrapped up in that sentence. And it’s made by Mote, who’s recovering from his fundamentalist upbringing and narrates the story throughout.

The book contains interesting characters and descriptions of events. Though Mote narrates, his mentally handicapped older sister Judith steals the show. She is the counterpoint to Mote’s anguished internal dialogue and Pratt’s decadent sophistication. The description of her putting on her winter clothes is hilarious. The description of Mote’s breakdown in a black Pentecostal church down by the river is engrossing. The solution of Pratt’s murder has a Paul-de-Man quality to it, which you’ll understand if you know who that is. On the plus side, I didn’t see it coming until it was just climbing on top of me.

And that brings me to a criticism of the book. It is full of literary allusions, some of which Mote draws readers’ attention to. Many of which he doesn’t. If you’re familiar with the stories or with postmodern literary theory, you’ll understand a lot of Mote’s internal dialogue and the tensions between characters. If not, you may not appreciate this book as much. (If you don’t know who Paul de Man is, or if you know but don’t see why Pratt’s past feels like an allusion to de Man, this might not be the book for you either, which, by the way, does not mention de Man explicitly.)

That said, I still read Death Comes for the Deconstructionist in one sitting (give or take a few coffee and bathroom breaks). My number one test for murder stories is whether they keep me turning pages. This one did. I liked it a lot.

P.S. If you found my review helpful, please vote “Yes” on my review page.

P.P.S. In an earlier version of this review, I criticized the book for a confusing chronology. The author kindly replied (see below), and I now realize the only confusion was mine. I’ve revised the review accordingly. Thanks, Mr. Taylor, for taking time to read my review!

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