I came shamefully late to the short stories of Peter Taylor, after years of hearing the praise of friends for Taylor's work and reading countless critical encomiums. A lot of reviewers on this page complain that this volume of collected stories doesn't contain one or more of their favorite Taylor stories (even though the back cover plainly states that this represents only the work Taylor published from 1940 to 1969, whereas he lived until 1994). Personally, I think this book is a wonderful introduction to Taylor's stories, and it whets my appetite to explore his work further.
The name of Chekhov is cited too often to praise the short-story writers who came after him, but Taylor is one of the very few who merits the comparison (the Canadian Alice Munro is another). Taylor has a remarkable ability to capture the nuances of human nature--particularly those which cause people to misunderstand each other completely--and record them in impeccably pellucid prose. His particular territory as a writer is the upper South in the days between the Depression and the Civil Rights Act, and he makes it as vivid as any in the history of American fiction. "Reservations" is a funny, bittersweet tale of a couple on their honeymoon, their wedding night foreshadowing the entire future path of their marriage. The title character of "The Fancy Woman" sets herself up for myriad humiliations as she clings to the hopeless expectation that her wealthy lover will marry her. "1939" depicts two college boys whose dreams of romance and literary glory come crashing down during one Thanksgiving weekend. Interspersed between these stories are the marvelous depictions of Southern culture in flux, including "A Wife of Nashville," "What You Hear From 'Em?" "Cookie," and "Venus, Cupid, Folly, and Time." This isn't the only book by Peter Taylor you'll ever need, but to those just coming to his work, it's a revelation.