A Summons To Memphis by Peter Taylor
Winner of the Pulitzer Prize in 1987 A Summon to Memphis is the story of an upper-class family from Tennessee. As the novel begins, Phillip Carver a 40-something successful business man living in Manhattan gets a phone call from his two hysterical sisters begging him to come home because their 81 year old father is about to re-marry. From that point the story drops back in time as Phillip recalls past events of childhood and the circumstances that lead up to this family crisis.
The Carver children were raised during an era when appearances, manners, etiquette, and social status where paramount. And more likely than not, an authoritative father was common in most families, but Mr. Carver certainly excelled in this department. He was from one of the old, elite Nashville clans, was a successful lawyer, handsome, charismatic, distinguished, and sophisticated – in other words very charming, very persuasive and accustomed to getting his way. Unfortunately, you never know what Mr. Carver was thinking because Phillip is telling the story – and his opinions are biased. He spent his entire live intimidated by his dad, and running away to New York was his way of being set free of his fathers domination.
Phillip’s sisters Jo and Betsy chose to remain in Tennessee under their father’s watchful discriminant eye and catered to his every wish their entire lives, but now things are about to change and they are furious. How dare Mr. Carver make plans to start a whole new life with another woman when Jo and Betsy have sacrificed everything to dedicate their lives to him.
Peter Taylor is a very good storyteller. Through Phillip’s eyes, and rambling stream of conscious, the details unfold. You are never quite sure you are getting the entire story. You just know that many of the father’s decisions seemed unreasonable to the kids when they were young. And now – Phillip is relying on his vindictive sisters to report the news from Tennessee. He ponders – which side should he take?… should he go back home and help his sisters force some sense into dear old dad – or support his dad’s decision to remarry?
It’s an intriguing tale because even though some of the dad’s decisions seem downright mean and cold-hearted, it’s also a fact that most parents make some mistakes in raising their children. And it’s interesting how some children can grow up and move past that – go on with their lives and be happy and successful, while other children get stuck in a rut stewing about past grievances and blame the parents for everything… for the rest of their lives.
Some critics complain that the plot is boring. A Summons to Memphis is more about character analysis than action and adventure. While Phillip relates his tale he occasionally repeats himself – goes back over events, mulls over his feelings – recalls missed details, all in a very thoughtful realistic way – as he determines what action he will take, and you somehow get the feeling that after his story is told, he still continues to reassure himself that in the end – he did do right thing. Didn’t he?
Rated 4 Stars December 19, 2016
All contents © 2016 Lois Weisberg. All rights reserved.