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A Summons to Memphis


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About the Author

Peter Taylor was born in Tennessee in 1917. He was the author of seven books of stories, including The Collected Stories of Peter Taylor, A Long Fourth, In the Miro District and Other Stories and The Old Forest and Other Stories (which won the Pen/Faulkner Award for fiction in 1985); three novels including A Summons to Memphis (which won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1987); and three books of plays. Mr. Taylor taught at Harvard University, the University of North Carolina, and Kenyon College, from which he graduated in 1940. Before his death in 1994, he was Commonwealth Professor of English at the University of Virginia.


It seems amazing that only now has Taylorwell advanced in a life that seems as measured as his lucid prosedelivered himself of a second novel. It has been as well worth waiting for as a treasure uncovered after years of searching. As in his celebrated short stories, Taylor here offers a reconstruction of an earlier era in a distinctively Southern settinga closely knit society permeated by inflexible codes of conduct whose consequences reach through the generations. This is the story of the Carver family, formerly of Nashville, whose move to Memphis was the result of the father's betrayal by his best friend and major legal client. Phillip Carver, the narrator, tells of the events that followed from that move, in which his autocratic father destroyed the lives of his wife and all four of his children. The circumstances are affected by the particular milieu of Memphis, just a few hundred miles away from Nashville, but having its own accents of speech, social hierarchy, customs and patterns of behavioreven a certain style of dressing. Taylor conveys these characteristics in the same way that he evokes personality: with an accretion of detail built on sensitive and sympathetic observation. As the novel unfolds, what seems a simple story becomes weighted with psychological nuances, revealed as layer after layer of family secrets is stripped away. In a beautifully constructed symmetry, events come full circle; the revelation of paternal hubris also unmasks treachery and festering resentment and fully illuminates the tragedy of hopes dashed and young lives wasted. Through a final, wrenching irony, Phillip eventually comes to understand the wellsprings of his father's character, and he is able to achieve empathy and forgiveness. Master raconteur Taylor casts implicationsfar wider than his novel's settingabout the insidious undercurrents in family relationships. This is a wise book, and despite its deliberate understatement, a profoundly affecting one. (October 6)

"We finish the novel feeling we've not only come to know his characters, but also come to share their inner truths." --Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times

"A beautiful ironic novel. Peter Taylor's fiction is full of rewards." --The New York Times Book Review

"A Summons to Memphis is like a leisurely port wine sipped slowly and with pleasure beneath a blackjack oak." --The Philadelphia Inquirer

"Something of a miracle.... [A Summons to Memphis] is a work that manages to summarize and embody its author's entire career." --The Washington Post Book World

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