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Many characters aren't fleshed out much beyond the t-shirt slogans and books they're reading, presaging the quick signifiers we now try to define and shape ourselves with-the Facebook status updates, ironic sartorial choices, and political positions condensed to the point of incoherence. We're led to see these outcasts as seekers, desperate for a purpose and a calling, but Taylor expects as much blind faith in his characters' underdeveloped motivation as they have in their new cult and its punk messiah. Ideas about technology as a dehumanizing hazard, libertine sex as religious ecstasy, and devotion as disease all pull Taylor toward some interesting, if not original, investigations. The word '"twine" and its variants are strewn several times throughout The Gospel of Anarchy; this is a novel very clearly trying, and in scattered instances succeeding, to entwine and wed big themes like freedom and faith and love, the universal paradoxes and absurdities of human existence. Taylor enjoys pointing to the parallels between the holy and the heretical. Where Franzen's Freedom (something of a Gospel of Liberalism) served as an opus for a generation whose moment seems always fading, Taylor's novel is an unsure missive for a generation for whom disengagement seems to be the only recourse, for whom everything is futile. This is less a novel about youth than one that manifests the floundering, unsure assuredness of youth as its style.
The obvious highlights in The Gospel of Anarchy are the conflagrations of religious fervor, desperate soul-seeking, pseudo-political proselytizing, and orgiastic release, but Taylor really shines with the aftermaths, the moments just after the climaxes when the narrative lens lingers past the peaks. It's when the focus moves away from Fishgut, toward the "mundane and fascinating," that Taylor's prose has room to breathe. When Katy, the ardent prophetess of the fledgling cult, goes off on her own and soaks up the Gainesville landscapes, the reader is reminded of Taylor's strengths. A lot of attention has been paid to Taylor's honest and gritty portrayal of sex, and it's mostly deserved, but the moments that stand out aren't so much the hedonistic, polyamorous digressions as the rare glimpses of tenderness, as when Thomas watches his lover sleep: "This girl-his girl, if that's not too fucked up to say, just once, when nobody's around and he's not even saying it aloud. His sweet girl." At times, Taylor is an adept diagnostician of his characters' conflicted, convoluted, and self-sabotaging desires.
The real depths worth plumbing are plumbed too little and too late, when Taylor retires his burning-with-passion neophytes and shifts his gaze to the doubting Thomas and the grounded Anchor. In the end, the latter provides the most cogent and provocative distillation of the anarchic messiness that preceded and the varied religious and ideological proclivities of the novel's Kool-Aid-chugging cast: "She had worshipped them-all of them-sort of; what they seemed to stand for, who they seemed to be. She hadn't wanted to be them, exactly, but had hungered to feel things as powerfully as they did." That hunger is something to which we can all confess, and it's a pity it took the entire ramshackle affair of this book to get to the meat of the motivation. These characters, more than most, could benefit from some tough love and scrutiny from their creator. Throughout all the disjointed preceding pages, the punks "lived as if the fate of the very universe were perpetually at stake and in their hands," and Taylor left them too unchallenged. The book strives for a near-constant revelatory fever pitch, but it neither attains the catharsis its characters seem to find around every corner (and in every dumpster), nor casts a sufficiently inquisitive eye toward the strange attraction (to recycle one of the book's mantras) of obsessive worship or the ease with which people shift their orbits around different consecrated idols of unbridled desire and devotion.