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A Summons to Memphis

3.65 of 5 stars 3.65  ·  rating details  ·  3,385 ratings  ·  205 reviews
One of the most celebrated novels of its time, the Pulitzer Prize winner A Summons to Memphis introduces the Carver family, natives of Nashville, residents, with the exception of Phillip, of Memphis, Tennessee.

During the twilight of a Sunday afternoon in March, New York book editor Phillip Carver receives an urgent phone call from each of his older, unmarried sisters. They
Paperback, 209 pages
Published June 29th 1999 by Vintage (first published June 29th 1986)
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To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper LeeMiddlesex by Jeffrey EugenidesThe Road by Cormac McCarthyThe Color Purple by Alice WalkerThe Good Earth by Pearl S. Buck
Pulitzer Winners: Fiction & Novels
55th out of 87 books — 908 voters
To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper LeeThe Road by Cormac McCarthyMiddlesex by Jeffrey EugenidesThe Grapes of Wrath by John SteinbeckThe Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway
Pulitzer Prize Winners-Fiction
43rd out of 68 books — 73 voters

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Community Reviews

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Robert Beveridge
Feb 11, 2008 Robert Beveridge rated it 2 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: Hardcore Peter Taylor fans
1986 must have been a singularly awful year for literature, because the book that won the Pulitzer that year would have struggled during the years when Taylor (most of whose work was released during the forties) was in his salad days.

This is not to say A Summons to Memphis, Taylor's first novel in forty years, is a bad book. It's a decent book, a nice book. And that's exactly why it doesn't deserve one of the highest honors that can be conferred on a novel. It's nice. What's so great about nice?
Nov 29, 2011 Mike rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommended to Mike by: The Modern Library: The Best 200 Novels Written in English Since 1950
Better known for his short stories, Peter Taylor pulled out all the stops with "A Summons to Memphis," winning the National Book Critics Award in 1986 and the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1987. Taylor, born in 1917, to a wealthy Nashville family, obviously wrote what he knew.

George Carver is a well known Nashville Lawyer. However, his origins are of a more humble nature. Carver's roots were in Thorne County, outside Memphis, a member of the planter class, whose wealth was based on slavery, cott
Bill  Kerwin

A brief, leisurely novel written by a master of the short story, "A Summons to Memphis" is an excellent example of what Henry James referred to as "the beautiful and blessed nouvelle." The narrator Phillip, a New York City book editor, is the son of imposing Memphis lawyer George Carver. Phillip returns home when the family is disrupted by his octogenarian father's desire to remarry, and his older sisters' determination to thwart him. Phillip, meanwhile, is still obsessed with the belief that hi
This book was incredibly tedious. It was like Holden Caulfield and Charles Dickens had a horrible ugly child. Not only is the style repetitive to the point of frustration, but the narrator is a total pile of crap. He is selfish and completely unaware of anyone else in his life having feelings or desires. He assumes that all the men who accompany his sisters are paid escorts, because who could possibly find middle-aged women attractive. He believes that his sweetheart allowed herself to be sent t ...more
Sunshine Moore
I am bewildered. I feel empty inside as if I just spent an hour watching tele novellas. Was there actually a story in that heap of recollections? They moved, and it messed up their relationships and the kids are bitter about it. Ok. They never grow out of it. The father makes up with the guy who was the reason for the move. He dies. This story is like driving through Kansas. Sorry, Kansas.

Midpoint review:
I find this book boring but not slow. He just keeps dancing around the same set of events ov
Book Concierge

Philip Carver has escaped his controlling father and now lives in New York with his much younger Jewish girlfriend. But when he gets a surprise phone call from his older sister, followed only minutes later by a call from his second sister, and then from an old family friend, he knows he has been summoned to Memphis to help deal with the “disaster.” A mere two years after his mother’s death, his 80-something father has plans to remarry and his adult children have no intention of letting him
What a delightful surprise. I found this in a used book store in Fairhope, Alabama, and was curious. What a terrific writer Mr. Taylor is, and how I enjoyed reading about the schism between Nashville & Memphis, which I had thought I sensed when I lived in Nashville for nearly a decade in the 90's. I confess that I often wonder if people from places other than the deep South think that all Southern writers are liars and embellishers. Not so, at least in Peter Taylor's case, I think. Once agai ...more
“Both my sisters always had a good deal to say about the appropriateness and inappropriateness of other people’s dress. This may seem strange in the light of how it was they usually dressed themselves. But somehow one felt that their own attire could not and was not intended to be taken straight. Rather, their own attire seemed offered as a criticism of how those about them dressed. Or so I understood it. It seemed a kind of cruel joke between themselves and the beholder if the beholder understo ...more
David Bonesteel
A difficult Southern father moves his family from Nashville to Memphis after losing his fortune, and his children spend the rest of their lives dealing with the emotional turmoil of life under his thumb. Many years later, his two unmarried daughters get their opportunity for revenge.

I really did not like this slim novel and am shocked that it won the Pulitzer Prize. I have no problem believing that wealthy Southerners in the years following the Great Depression would be consumed with issues of c
This is a beautifully crafted book. Phillip Carver is summonned back to Memphis by his sisters after their father becomes romantically involved with a new partner following the death of their mother. From this premise unfolds a complex tale of Memphis culture and family politics. The family had moved in the children's teen years from Nashville, in the Upper South, to Memphis, in the Deep South in the years just before WWII. The move leaves scars on each of the family members, except perhaps fath ...more
I love Peter Taylor's short stories, the small details and human insights, the self-deluded narrators and characters. I liked this slow moving, repetitive novel that recounts a family's broken relationships through the vantage of the youngest son, now almost fifty. In the narrator's youth, the father moved the family to Memphis after a business partner's corruption became known in Nashville. The move disrupts the family and the father proceeds to destroy the potential marriages of his two daught ...more
A Pulitzer prize-winner, A Summons to Memphis is a southern novel, but one without a hint of gothic. The narrator is one Phillip Carver, son of an upper middle-class Tennessee family, who is now self-exiled in a New York apartment whilst his two spinster sisters and elderly father remain in Memphis. When the father has notions of remarrying, Phillip is summonsed by his sisters to return... Sounds a bit thin for a full-length novel, but Peter Taylor takes his time, circling round the family histo ...more
David B
A difficult Southern father moves his family from Nashville to Memphis after losing his fortune, and his children spend the rest of their lives dealing with the emotional turmoil of life under his thumb. Many years later, his two unmarried daughters get their opportunity for revenge.

I really did not like this slim novel and am shocked that it won the Pulitzer Prize. I have no problem believing that wealthy Southerners in the years following the Great Depression would be consumed with issues of c
On subject matter alone, A Summons to Memphis spoke to me. The complexity of family relationships, specifically conflicts between parent and child...the need for forgiving and forgetting in those relationships...the role of memory in characterizing the relationships...are all issues that are often on my mind. A central event in the story--being well settled during childhood in one town and then moving to another (lesser) town--also stimulated my insights and reminiscences because I had my own si ...more
This novella won the Pulitzer Prize in 1986 and I suppose this might have started me off with very high expectations for it. In general I love southern books, having been reared by a southern grandmother. This book is like watching the ice melt in a tall glass of iced tea (a southern staple). It happens very slowly. As I've read in other reviews, this book does not have a lot of action. It's really about one event: the upheaval of a Nashville family forced to move to Memphis because of the betra ...more
This one was not at all what I thought it would be. Pulitzer prize winner, Peter Taylor tells the story (I thought at one point it might be autobiographical, and it might, but the author married and lived in several places, unlike the main character) of Phillip Carver, a book collector who lives in Manhattan, who is summoned to his father's home in Memphis, when his 2 spinster sisters realize the old man is going to remarry and they, in turn, could lose the family fortune to some fluzey. As he d ...more
Kaye Hallows
This book won the Pulitzer Prize in 1987 and is hailed as a "classic work of American literature" but I had a hard time with the repetition of a handful of events that weren't all that interesting and didn't improve with the multiple tellings. Yes, the narrator does finally gain some insight into his seriously dysfunctional family, as a mature man in his late fifties, but this knowledge seems to arrive too late for him to be able to do anything useful with it, beyond having a few more meaningful ...more
Taylor's novel reminded me of The Optimist's Daughter. I wasn't floored by that novel either, but at least the protagonist's emotional outbursts at the end of that novel gave me some sort of emotional connection to the plot; Taylor's did not. Indeed, his controlled and clinical account of his dealings with his sisters' and father I think dearly hurt the novel. Any one dealing with the slow deterioration of a family member, and watching their siblings manipulate that elderly person, would be at ...more
I read this book as part of my goal to read all of the Pulitzer Prize winning books. It was a pretty good book, but I didn't see it as a prize-winning work. I liked the "portrait" quality of the novel - the author spent a lot of time deconstructing each scene in a similar style as Virginia Woolf's "Mrs. Dalloway" or Truman Capote's "Breakfast At Tiffany's" (although not as gripping a deconstruction as either of these). The ending was a bit awkward...I found myself wondering if the story of comin ...more
Mark Robertson
I will start by saying that I did not like or empathize with any of the main characters in this book. Maybe the reader is not meant to. Why this was awarded a Pulitzer is beyond me. The inciting incident in this story occurred in the early 1930s, and its exact nature is never fully explained. There are elements of the plot that are never properly explained and it's impossible to say what motivates much of the characters' activities.

Phillip Carver, the narrator, is a self-absorbed, petulant and
Published in 1986, this book won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction. So many great books are lost in the excitement of the new. (Reminder to self: check past Pulitzer winners).

Peter Taylor is an evocative writer--his style is somewhat old fashioned and has the "Southern accent." Perhaps what I mean by that is that the story unfolds rather placidly, building up details, without having dramatic scenes. The Memphis Taylor describes is one that no longer exists..but it is a town that exists in many mind
Were this book not on my Pulitzer goal list, I likely would have read it on the recommendation of my husband, who had enjoyed it a decade prior. A Summons to Memphis is a solid definition of Southern literature - a study of characters who simultaneously deserve our sympathy and scorn, revealed to us slowly through the perspective of a semi-prodigal son who observes everything from a distance, as though the widened space protects him.

Philip Carver recounts in neat portions his life with his well
Let's see, a 1987 Pulitzer Prize winner in fiction written about Tennesseans should be a five star read for me. And yet, though the proper English assuaged me, the gentility and accents reminded me of my paternal grandparents, the setting titillated even more memories, the story line drubbed me to the point of crying for mercy! Since when does a heterosexual male author drone on endlessly about people's thoughts and feelings? Was poor Peter another person who was too afraid to live his authentic ...more
Laura Harrington
How do our parents lives shape our own? This is an elegiac novel about the enduring and sometimes strength of the ties that bind.
Lauren Huibregtse
Peter Taylor writes with a voice that comes straight from the south. His story about a man struggling to figure out how to deal with a powerful father that had changed the course of his life and the rest of his family's with a move from Nashville to Memphis is compelling and he creates vivid characters that personify the Southern respectabilty, restraint and propriety and the all too human aspects of fear and loneliness in going through change. A quick read and ultimately enjoyable. More of a st ...more
Christopher MacMillan
By no means a perfect book, Peter Taylor's 'A Summons to Memphis' is still a good one -- intelligent, easy to read, quick to breeze through, and overall a good - if repetitive - story.

Phillip Carver gets phone calls from his two sisters asking him to fly to Memphis from his home in Manhattan to help stop their elderly father from marrying a younger woman. This causes Phillip to be sent head-first into memories from the past that he have haunted him all his life, and to re-examine how he feels ab
Peter Taylor’s “A Summons to Memphis” is a delightful chronicle of a Tennessee family in transition, one moving during the 1930s from older more landed and Victorian Nashville to newer more edgy and cosmopolitan Memphis. The former had more in common with the colonial style of Richmond Virginia while the latter was distinctly shaped by the plantation soul of the Mississippi delta. Involving a family of six – including four children … two each – the tale paints the transformation in each family m ...more
Jul 08, 2010 Dwight added it

Taylor’s prose ambles along, providing rich detail to invoke an early to mid-20th-century portrait of the South. While it is easy to scoff at the premise that the family’s move could have such an impact on the members, I think Taylor means it as an allegory for Southern difficulty moving from past to present. Even if that’s the case, it feels rather clumsy and contrived even though it occasionally provides insight into some of the problems that needed to b
Reasons to be interested: Pulitzer Prize winner (1987), southern fiction, Memphis/Nashville, family relationships (father/son/siblings), memories of friendships/squelched romance. Also, in a lifetime of writing, this is only Taylor's second novel, published at the age of 70.

I suspect on a scale of literary perfection Taylor's novel would easily rank above average for its use of various devices and techniques of the fiction-writing craft. Because I remain a mostly for-pleasure reader, this remain
This isn't your usual book in that there isn't a clear plot and resolution. The author Peter Taylor is a short story writer and this short novel feels just like that, a snap shot of a time in the Manning family. But that's what made this book so great, each chapter was a short story with its own plot.

Two cities in Tennessee: Memphis and Nashville were life-changing for the Manning family. It is a satirical look at how people in the 1950s viewed these cities and this time period. When the Manning
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Peter Matthew Hillsman Taylor was a U.S. author and writer. Considered to be one of the finest American short story writers, Taylor's fictional milieu is the urban South. His characters, usually middle or upper class people, often are living in a time of change and struggle to discover and define their roles in society.
Peter Taylor also wrote three novels, including A Summons to Memphis in 1986, f
More about Peter Taylor...
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