Tuesday, September 25, 2012

A Summons to Memphis

We just spent the last five days on vacation, driving from Illinois to South Dakota and back.  Unfortunately, I can't read in the car, but I still managed to read A Summons to Memphis by Peter Taylor.  I loved it, just as I loved In the Tennessee Country, reviewed here earlier.  Something about those Southern novels almost always grabs me!  Mr. Taylor wrote A Summons to Memphis in 1985, his first novel after thirty-six years!  A Summons to Memphis won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 1986.  In my opinion, with good reason!

As I often do, I am sharing the first line of the novel.  First lines of novels are very important to me...if the first line grabs me, I usually like the book.  This was no exception.

"The courtship and remarriage of an old widower is always made more difficult when middle-aged children are involved-especially when there are unmarried daughters."

This ends up giving a big clue to the whole book.  Not necessarily because of the marriage thing, but of the family in general that is portrayed in this novel.  The author wrote that

"...remarriage was more difficult for old widowers in Memphis than it was over in Nashville..."

"A Summons to Memphis" is about many issues summoning people to Memphis. It is the story of the George Carver family, who relocated to Memphis from Nashville after Mr. Carver was betrayed by his partner in Nashville.  He took his wife and four children, irregardless of how they felt about the move.  This move was a major event through-out the novel.  Thirty years after the family's move to Memphis, Mr. Carver's wife died.  Thus began Mr. Carver's "going out", first with older women his own age, then with much younger women.

 By this time, Josephine and Betsy Carver, the two unmarried daughters of Mr. Carver, are still living in Memphis.  The oldest son, George, had died during World War II, and the youngest son, Phillip (also unmarried) had been living in New York for years. Phillip, is the narrator of the story. His sisters would write and keep him apprised of their father's dating situation, of which amused them.  However, when Mr. Carver announced that he was getting married, Phillip was summoned to Memphis by his sisters to resolve the crisis.  Phillip then began actively recalling the past and wrongs that he perceived that his father had done to him, including sabotaging his one true love relationship, along with how his father affected the lives of Phillips' mother and siblings.  As Phillip recalls the past, he decided that the one true betrayal was his father's abruptly moving the family to Memphis from Nashville.

Phillip gets on a plane to answer his summons.  And as he arrived in Memphis, Phillip began immediately to see things in a different light.  It was very interesting to read how the author brought all to a conclusion.

This novel is about family secrets, forgiveness, understanding, and ultimately, love.

A great read!

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