Winter/Spring 2024 Fiction Preview: Play by Jess Taylor | Book*hug Press

Winter/Spring 2024 Fiction Preview: Play by Jess Taylor

We’re thrilled to be sharing the next title in our Winter/Spring 2024 Fiction Preview: Play by Jess Taylor!

Paul (Paulina) Hayes loves her cousin Adrian. Inseparable from a young age, they play The Lighted City, an imaginary world where they pretend to live together and can escape a childhood that seems both too sad and too grown-up. But The Lighted City isn’t without danger.

Years later, Paul is struggling with PTSD after a season of turmoil—one in which Adrian is dead, and radio and television are filled with reports of missing children. Just as stability is settling into her life and relationships, Paul is dragged back into the fate that Adrian seems to have scripted for them. And so she finds herself journeying across the country, down into a ravine, and back to The Lighted City, where so much of her childhood played out. Only by doing so can she begin to come to terms with “the day everything happened”—and what has unfolded since then.

With a unique blend of contemporary storytelling and psychological fiction, Play is a haunting, riveting novel that reminds us of both the beauty and danger of imagination.

“Jess Taylor’s Play is at once haunted and haunting, a frightening and ultimately compassionate story of the painful and winding path one person takes in the lurch toward healing. It’s a novel full of light and heart even in its darkest moments: a beautiful, compelling debut.” —Liz Harmer, author of Strange Loops

Jess Taylor has shared a video to introduce readers to Play in anticipation of the book’s release:

We’ve also selected an excerpt from the novel to share with you today. Play will be released on April 23, 2024, and is available for pre-order from our online shop or from your local independent bookstore.

I was made for Adrian. This was told to me as a story as far back as I can remember.

I sit at Aunt Dot’s kitchen table, barely five years old, dunking toaster-oven-cooked chicken fingers into cold, squeezed-out plum sauce pooled in the centre of my plate. “I knew you since before you were born,” Adrian tells me.

“That’s right,” Aunt Dot says. “Your mom and dad sat here and told me and Jim and Adrian all about you. You weren’t even making your mom big yet.”


“Yep. And they called us when they knew you were a girl.”

“I remember,” says Adrian. “The phone rang and you said, ‘Well, instead of Paul, it looks like they’ll be having a Paulina.’”

“You were barely three, silly,” Aunt Dot says. “I don’t think you really remember. You just remember the stories.”

“But I am a Paul,” I say.

“But we didn’t know that back then,” says Adrian. “She means the name your parents were gonna call you. Anyway, you were born two days after my birthday, and Mom said that was because you were for me.”

“I was so happy to have a child for Adrian to play with. I knew we weren’t going to have any more, and your mom and dad weren’t either. They were happy with their little girl.”

“Did they think I was going to be a boy?”

“Oh, we were sure of it. She felt just like I did with Adrian, the whole time—the heartburn, the headaches, even down to the way she carried. We hoped you’d be a boy—just for a little bit—thinking it would be easier for you and Adrian to play. But as soon as I heard you were a girl, well, I knew you’d be perfect for Adrian too. We’d just need to make sure he didn’t fall in love with you.”

“Why not?”

“Because you’re family. That sort of thing doesn’t happen here.”


“A long time ago, though, kings and queens were only allowed to marry family.”


“I guess because they thought it kept the bloodline pure—also I think it was a way to keep money in the families. Marriage wasn’t about love back then.”

“Do you love Daddy? Is that why you married him?” Adrian asks.

“Get outside, go play. Paul didn’t come over just to talk to me all day.” And we run out the screen door, knowing Aunt Dot is too shy for our personal questions.


Jess Taylor is a Tkaronto (Toronto) writer and poet. She is the author of Pauls, the title story of which won the 2013 Gold Fiction National Magazine Award, and Just Pervs, a finalist for the 2020 Lambda Literary Award in Bisexual Fiction. Her story “Two Sex Addicts Fall in Love” was longlisted for the 2018 Journey Prize. Play is her debut novel.

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