Monday, September 3, 2012

In the Tennessee Country

"If you would tell me the heart of a man, tell me not what he reads, but what he rereads."

I don't know exactly what this quote (by Francois Mauriac) might tell you about me, but I thought it was interesting to have come across it right after I began reading this book! I was searching my bookshelves desperately looking for something to read late one night a few days ago and came across In the Tennessee Country by Peter Taylor.  It had been years since I had read it, and somehow, it called me.  Oh, what a good book!  I so enjoyed it! It was published in 1994, the same year that Mr. Taylor died.  I did not realize that he had written a Pulitzer Prize for Fiction book (Summons to Memphis) earlier in his life.  I haven't read it yet, but have already checked it out of the library.  Interestingly, reading about Mr. Taylor, I learned that when he died he had been publishing fiction for fifty-seven years.  As I read the short biography of Peter Taylor (at: ), his life certainly seemed to parallel the life of Nathan Longfort, the narrator of In the Tennessee Country.

"In the Tennessee country of my forebears it was not uncommon for a man of good character suddenly to disappear.  He might be a young man or a middle-aged man or even sometimes a very old man.  Whatever the case, few questions were ever asked.  Rather, it was generally assumed that such a man had very likely felt the urging of some inner compulsion and so could not do otherwise than gather up his chattels and move on to resettle himself elsewhere."

And so the story began.  Nathan had first met Aubrey Tucker Bradshaw on the funeral train carrying Nathan's grandfather.  Aubrey was the illegitimate son of Nathan's great-uncle.  Aubrey had been taken in by Nathan's grandfather at an early age, and was considered somewhat of a black sheep by the time Nathan met him in 1916, when Nathan was about four years old.  Nathan's grandfather had been a Senator from Tennessee, and upon his death, his body was taken by train from Washington DC to Knoxville, Tennessee for burial.

The book is about Nathan's journey through life.  He had lost his father when he was nine years old and so was raised by his mother and his two aunts.  Through-out his growing up, Nathan heard stories about Aubrey, who after the funeral train ride had disappeared.  Through-out the years, Nathan would think that he spotted Aubrey whenever there were funerals for the family.  As Nathan got older, he began to search to try to learn what had become of this mysterious man.  He began collecting rumors of sightings of Aubrey, and as his mother aged, she became more open about sharing her stories of Aubrey, most notably, how he was her first love.

It is a charming book.  Much of the attraction of the story for me was the genealogical pieces of the story, along with it being a story of the South.  As Nathan pursues his interest in Aubrey over the years, he, of course, is living his own life wondering how his life would live up to the Senator and his (Nathan's) mother's expectations for him.  And, as to be expected, Nathan wonders about his own father, who had died so early in Nathan's life.

Much of the story seemed to strike a chord with me.  It is a rather lazy going, slow story, but kept my interest through-out.  I am anxious to read more of Mr. Taylor's works....

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