Violent emotions seethe beneath a veneer of manners and mores in Peter Taylor’s A Summons to Memphis. The 1986 novel of a proper, but perverse
Echoes of Edith Wharton reverberate throughout
Wharton explored the mannered cruelties of Old New York.
A Summons to Memphis is the story of the Carver family; the father, George, and his three adult children, two daughters and a son. The children nurse unspoken hurts and resentments against their father – a needy despot whose rigid, unbending control over his family seems to extend from cradle to grave and which is always portrayed as well-meaning and in the children’s interest.
Their resentment begins in childhood when the family is uprooted from a comfortable life in
The anger lies buried, surfacing only in the most passive of expressions, until, soon after their mother’s death, the father, now quite elderly, contemplates a second marriage. Faced with the loss of their inheritance, alongside their empty, unfulfilled lives, the children take action.
It is not giving too much away to say that the marriage never takes place. The story is not about the aborted marriage, but in how the grown children use the conventions of
A Summons to Memphis was
It would have made a fine magazine article.