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A Summons to Memphis [Turtleback]

Peter Hillsman Taylor
4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)

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Book Description

Jan 1999
Winner of the 1987 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction.
"American readers demand novels, and now Peter Taylor has given them one; to say that it is every bit as good as the best of his short stories is the highest compliment it can be paid."
THE WASHINGTON POST BOOK WORLD
When Phillip Carver receives, on a lonely Sunday evening, two successive telephone calls from his sisters, begging him to leave his home in Manhattan and return immediately to Memphis, he is slow to agree. His sisters, middle-aged and unmarried, want his help in averting the remarriage of their father, an elderly widower. And although Phillip wants no part in such manipulations, he finds himself unable to refuse to make the trip South...and into his own past.
--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


Product details

  • Turtleback
  • Publisher: Demco Media (Jan 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0606218939
  • ISBN-13: 978-0606218931
  • Product Dimensions: 20.3 x 13.3 x 1.9 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)

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Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
By Mary Whipple HALL OF FAME TOP 100 REVIEWER
Format:Paperback
Winner of 1987's Pulitzer Prize, this genteel and very old-fashioned tale of a troubled family is more in the tradition of Eudora Welty than that of Jonathan Franzen. Filtering the whole story through the eyes of Philip Carver, a collector of antique books in his late 40's, the author startles the reader by making no effort whatsoever to involve him vicariously in the action, something we now take for granted in modern fiction. Instead, he requires the reader to get to know Philip through his first-person narrative, draw conclusions about his background, and observe how unfolding events change his perceptions, not only about present actions, but of the past, as well.
Philip is, at heart, very much a southern gentleman, despite the fact that he thinks he has escaped his Nashville and Memphis heritage for New York, where he has lived for almost fifteen years, unmarried, with Holly Kaplan. Despite the painful relationship he has had with his autocratic but reserved father, now in his eighties, he responds to a series of phone calls from his unmarried sisters and returns to Memphis, where his father is planning to remarry, an eventuality which the sisters find anathema and which they are determined to countervail.
Both the immediate situation in Memphis and the history leading up to it are told in the past tense, with flashbacks to still earlier times, a rare and difficult narrative approach which keeps the reader at arm's length, but Taylor manages to give emotional power to unfolding events, in part, because Philip's narrative restraint contrasts so sharply with the meanness and manipulation of his "well-meaning" father and, now, his sisters.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Good, but I wonder why it got the Pulitzer 28 Aug 1999
By A Customer
Format:Paperback
I enjoyed this subtle tale of revenge. Much hinges on the move from Nashville and Memphis and the difference between the two cities. Taylor tells the story in a circular style: first he tells the story in a few pages - all the majot characters appear very early on. Then he tells the story again with more detail, and continues like this, widening the circle of information each time, dropping in new facts which alter what you already know and change everything again slightly. Then he tells it again, adding more facts. Lovely book, glad I read it, but not of the usual Pulitzer calibre in my opinion.
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Amazon.com: 3.9 out of 5 stars  38 reviews
34 of 36 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Restrained and dignified look at a family?s troubled history 23 Dec 2001
By Mary Whipple - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
Winner of 1987's Pulitzer Prize, this genteel and very old-fashioned tale of a troubled family is more in the tradition of Eudora Welty than that of Jonathan Franzen. Filtering the whole story through the eyes of Philip Carver, a collector of antique books in his late 40's, the author startles the reader by making no effort whatsoever to involve him vicariously in the action, something we now take for granted in modern fiction. Instead, he requires the reader to get to know Philip through his first-person narrative, draw conclusions about his background, and observe how unfolding events change his perceptions, not only about present actions, but of the past, as well.

Philip is, at heart, very much a southern gentleman, despite the fact that he thinks he has escaped his Nashville and Memphis heritage for New York, where he has lived for almost fifteen years, unmarried, with Holly Kaplan. Despite the painful relationship he has had with his autocratic but reserved father, now in his eighties, he responds to a series of phone calls from his unmarried sisters and returns to Memphis, where his father is planning to remarry, an eventuality which the sisters find anathema and which they are determined to countervail.

Both the immediate situation in Memphis and the history leading up to it are told in the past tense, with flashbacks to still earlier times, a rare and difficult narrative approach which keeps the reader at arm's length, but Taylor manages to give emotional power to unfolding events, in part, because Philip's narrative restraint contrasts so sharply with the meanness and manipulation of his "well-meaning" father and, now, his sisters. The irony grows as the reader sees parallels between the present circumstances of the father, his fiancée, and the sisters, and events which happened many years ago. The tables have been turned, but Philip exhibits no sense of victory, no gloating, only growing self-awareness and understanding. He remains a gentleman to the very end in this most unusual and enlightening novel. Mary Whipple
12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fabulously written 23 Sep 2000
By Shannon Byrd - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
Peter Taylor writes in a way that makes every moment enjoyable and worth remembering. The story of the lives of the members of the Carver family and the profound effect a move from Nashville to Memphis has on them is unforgettable. By the novel's end the reader is left with so much to consider, from the relationships of the characters to their motivations and eventual lifestyles. And unlike one of the last books I read, Philip Roth's American Pastoral, which also chronicled the life of an American family, Taylor's book is beautifully written but yet simple and clear - no egotistical self-loving prose here! I would actually plan on reading some of Taylor's other works, this was so enjoyable. You won't forget this one.
18 of 20 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Very restrained, yet emotionally intense story of a family 14 Jan 2005
By AusNashPeople - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
Peter Taylor, a native Tennessean, won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction with this story in 1987. That, together with my residence in Nashville, was enough to recommend it to me.

The story is narrated by Phillip Carver, a fiftyish man who grew up in Nashville and Memphis in a prosperous and well-known family. The patriarchal head of the family, George Carver, had a thriving legal practice in Nashville before moving his entire family to Memphis after being involved in a business scandal with a prominent business partner. This story is about the ramifications that move had upon Carver's children, now middle aged and unmarried - Phillip and his two sisters, Betsy and Josephine. Their lives, all successful in their own ways, have been driven by an abiding resentment towards their father, and the father, in turn, directed their lives in ways that would appear devious and pernicious, including despoiling marriage plans for each one. Phillip had made flight to New York some fifteen years prior to the time period described here (which I calculated to be in the mid-1960's). The narrator, his father, now in his early eighties, and his two sisters, all carry immense emotional baggage towards one another. But it is of a type of baggage that is never given overt voice, lying buried beneath a veneer of politeness and rectitude. Indeed, the narrator conveys deep-seated emotional memories with a kind of dispassionate elan, if that is possible; he feels a step removed from the events of his life, and his feelings towards his sisters and father are unresolved, even under-developed. Indeed, he never quite resolves his feelings towards them, but dutifully returns to Memphis frequently over the course of the story at the behest of his sisters, who have engaged in a lifelong obsession over their father and his affairs. Phillip does receive some revelation on these matters towards the end and sees his family members as they perhaps really were and are.

In some ways, very little happens in this story. I had a sense of wanting the writer to break out and really tell a story. The narrator's emotional aloofness serves to prevent this. Eventually, the story does take off, but it takes some time. The writing is very subtle, and Taylor does have a knack for understatement. But perhaps he was more of a short story writer, as his resume suggests - I did enjoy this book, especially the insights into the lives of the cultural elite in regions that I am very familiar with, but am ambivalent about its being awarded the highest literary prize. Maybe on reflection I will change this view, but for now, I am a little untouched by this work.
12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Family: Forgive or Forget 18 July 2000
By A Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
If there was an American master of the short story in the 20th century, Peter Taylor has to be considered for that sobriquet. His literary gifts and his insight into American society - heart and soul - are extraordinary. This novella, which has more of the feel of a short story, is an example of Taylor's focus on and absorption with the evolution of the American family in the South in the 20th century. The role of parents and children, men and women, black and white, relationships within and among families and society as a whole, are examined and enlightened. Taylor's simple, eloquent prose realizes profound underlying statements on complex sociological subjects, no less than the study of human nature This particular work focuses on the role of the parent in the future happiness of the child - the child never ceases to be a child in the eyes of the parent and the parent never ceases to be a parent in the eyes of the child - and how the recognition of the individual is necessary to treat a parent or a child with love and respect and allow an opportunity for the realization of happiness. A true pleasure to enjoy Taylor's craft, especially in this volume, which reaps the benefits of Taylor's accumulated experience and highly refined talents.
28 of 37 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Betrayal and Pay Back 14 Aug 2001
By Ms. Nancy F. Jones - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
I know, I know, Pulitzer Prize novel, but I just couldn't warm to it. First of all, I found no character I could like. The protagonist is a middle aged gentleman now living a dull, colorless life in New York City with a woman as drab as he is. He is still angry at his father for moving the family from Nashville to Memphis when he was 13 years old. The father had been betrayed by his partner and best friend, and was so humiliated and enraged that he uprooted his family and commanded them never to utter the name of his betrayer again. The move affected every member of the family adversely. The mother seemed to adapt at first, but soon took to her bed and stayed there for thirty years. The 18 and 19 year old daughters had their beaus run off by their father. One because he came from Nashville, and the other because he was distantly related to the father's betrayer. The second son joined the armed service as soon as he became old enough and died in the Second World War.
Forty years later, when their father is planning to remarry after his wife's death, the adult daughters plot to stop the wedding, and enlist their brother to return to Memphis to assist in their scheme. Evidently it was a common practice in Memphis to prevent elderly widowers from remarrying in order to save the estate from falling into the new spouse's clutches. In this case it is motivated more by revenge than financial concerns.
This is the story of a controlling parent and children too cowed to take control of their own lives. The father in this novel was so self absorbed that he did not see his family as individuals, but only as extensions of himself. Therefore he had no realization of the pain he was inflicting. Their lives were irrevocably damaged by their father's action, but they could have saved themselves and chose not to do so. Their subsequent revenge on their eighty year old father could not have been satisfactory, and did not liberate them in any way. A cold, sad book, impeccably written, but not engaging.
Not being a Southerner, I don't relate to a place and time where one's pedigree is more important than one's character, and folks can pinpoint one's origin right down to an area of a few blocks by one's accent. Where a certain style of dress is deemed to be "Nashville" and another "Memphis". Since this is definitely a regional story, perhaps I lack the necessary understanding to review this book properly.
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