A Summons to Memphis

A Summons to Memphis

Book - 1986
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One of the most celebrated novels of its time, the Pulitzer Prize winner A Summons to Memphis introduces the Carver family, natives of Nashville, residents, with the exception of Phillip, of Memphis, Tennessee. During the twilight of a Sunday afternoon in March, New York book editor Phillip Carver receives an urgent phone call from each of his older, unmarried sisters. They plead with Phillip to help avert their widower father's impending remarriage to a younger woman. Hesitant to get embroiled in a family drama, he reluctantly agrees to go back south, only to discover the true motivation behing his sisters' concern. While there, Phillip is forced to confront his domineering siblings, a controlling patriarch, and flood of memories from this troubled past. Peter Taylor is one of the masters of Southern literature, whose work stands in the company of Eudora Walty, James Agee, and Walker Percy. In A Summons to Memphis, he composed a richly evocative story of revenge, resolution, and redemption, and gave us a classic work of American literature.
Publisher: New York : Knopf : Distributed by Random House, 1986.
Edition: 1st ed.
ISBN: 9780394410623
0394410629
Branch Call Number: TAYL
Characteristics: 209 p. ; 22 cm.

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DWIGHT A GREEN
Mar 12, 2016

Phillip Carver, a rare book collector and dealer living in Manhattan, receives phone calls from his sisters asking him to come home and help stop their widowed father from remarrying. The family still harbors deep-seated grudges, not to mention emotional stunting, from the father’s dictatorial actions, including relocating from Nashville to Memphis as well as his intrusion into their relationships. After Phillip reviews his family’s history and dysfunction, the reader follows the outcomes of his trip to Memphis and his father’s looming marriage to a much younger woman. Additional trips by Phillip to Tennessee follow as well as more meddling by family members.

Taylor’s prose ambles along, providing rich detail to invoke an early to mid-20th-century portrait of the South. While it is easy to scoff at the premise that the family’s move could have such an impact on the members, I think Taylor means it as an allegory for Southern difficulty moving from past to present. Even if that’s the case, it feels rather clumsy and contrived even though it occasionally provides insight into some of the problems that needed to be addressed.

The entire family is so emotionally stunted that any progress made will be in small increments or, more likely, illusory. The distance between Phillip and his family ends up being a problem since it is more than a physical gap—he doesn’t understand them so there is little he can provide to the reader. We don’t really get to know the sisters and Phillip’s shallow attempt at understanding his father falls flat. I much prefer Taylor's short stories to this novel.

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