Consuela's Reviews > A Summons to Memphis

A Summons to Memphis by Peter Taylor
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Aug 08, 2009

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Read in August, 2009

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 betrayal of the patriarch's business partner, and the impact this has on his family, his wife and 4 children.

There's an awful lot about the 2 sisters, now utterly silly middle-age spinsters, who at one point in the book actually make it seem like a horror novel. They exact their revenge on their father because he prevented both of them from marrying their chosen beaux. The oldest brother escapes by enlisting and is killed in WWII. The mother takes to her bed and pretty much stays there for 30 years. I loved this passage about the actual leaving of Nashville for her and the family. "It was not until she was in the car and we were all about ready to venture forth that she seemed to understand the finality of the moment. She was seated in the front of the Packard when Father got into the driver's seat and closed the car door. Suddenly at that moment, when he firmly closed his door, she broke into deep sobbing and for several moments wept uncontrollably. We all crowded around the car, the four grown-up or nearly grown-up children and the three black servants. Father took her into his arms, and I shall always have the feeling, though of course I do not think it literally true, that it was the last time he ever took her in his arms. Then just as suddenly as she had begun, she ceased weeping. With her eyes still teary she smiled and said that she did not wish to leave a trail of tears."

The book is about forgiving and forgetting. Can you really have one without the other? Remarkably the last few pages picked up considerably, so don't give up if you find yourself lulled by this very southern book.
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