Tuesday, May 17, 2011

A Summons to Memphis



When I learned that Philip Carver, the protagonist of Peter Taylor's A Summons to Memphis, had moved to Memphis, Tennessee when he was thirteen years old as a result of his father's job, I knew I had to read this book. I'd learned of Taylor by listening to NPR's program Selected Shorts which featured his short story Porte Cochere. I was spellbound by Taylor's anachronistically formal yet soothing Southern cadence. Listening made me reconnect with my own time living in The South, a time where so much happened so quickly, where I'd ultimately transition into the blessed larva stage of American manhood. Yet this phase was so fleeting and so disjointed from core processes that would eventually define me. So my memories of Memphis are intense yet ephemeral. They are frustratingly difficult to conjure. They come to me as cryptic missives from the other side of a wall that is loaded with potential danger and ultimately, unconquerable.



The Carver family of Summons have settled in Memphis as Father Carver has been defrauded out of a business partnership in Nashville. My own family settled in Memphis from the more distant world of New York. And it was not failure that brought us there but rather, a lucrative opportunity for my father. There is little that parallels Phillip Carver's story and my own - other than the abyss felt by a boy headed to an alien Memphis, understanding that he must somehow make peace with the place that would be his new home, for better or for worse.


Father Carver then proceeds to derail the respective happiness of his children as they bloom into adulthood. The story begins later with this patriarch now wishing to remarry after the death of the Carver matriarch. As the story unfolds, all the Carver family ghosts unravels slowly, indicating the root of the offspring's hostility surrounding this old man's final peaceful desires. Phillip has removed himself as much as possible, living in New York, but his two sisters are hellbent on thwarting their father's last oasis of happiness and demand that Phillip make an appearance to aid them.


Phillip and I are inexplicably intertwined. Memphis is a place that we both fled for New York. Still, something claws us back. For Phillip, there are immediate fires in Memphis that need his attention. For me, the fires have long extinguished, yet in my own Proustian quest, I kick the embers, hoping for some small spark that might replicate experience and sensation.

1 comment:

  1. Place and memory always bring us back to the business of longing. I was who I was then, and I am who I am now. But this person now always thinks he can fix the person then. The only thing I truly want to change in my past is having to sit through "Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves."

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