Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
A Summons to Memphis
A Summons to Memphis is a 1986 novel by Peter Taylor which won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1987. It is the recollection of Phillip Carver, a middle aged editor from New York City, who is summoned back to Memphis by his two conniving unmmarried sisters to help them prevent the marriage of their elderly father to a younger woman. As the story unfolds, Phillip reflects back on the major incidents in the life of his well-to-do family which was forced to leave Nashville during the time of the Great Depression after the older Mr. Carver, a distinguished lawyer, was betrayed by his business associate Lewis Shackleford. Though this happened when the four Carver children were still in their teens (another brother, who is little mentioned, died during the D-Day invasion of Normandy in World War II), the move had a major impact on them and continues to affect their abilities to build stable relationships and function in the modern world. As in Taylor's other books, this is a metaphor for the conflict between the lifestyle and values of "Old Tennessee" and the "New South," which disregards the traditional ways of its former gentried classes.
The book is an intense psychological novel which attempts to understand the motivations of each member of the larger Carver family by tracing them back to that one event--the move to Memphis--and the sense of dislocation that it caused in all of them. For Phillip, the narrator, the bonds to the past cannot be eliminated, no matter how much he tries to escape his family and live anonymously in New York. For the three surviving children, their feeble efforts to build new lives for themselves are overwhelmed by their sense of familial loyalty until they finally come to terms with the events that shaped them. For the sisters, Betsy and Josephine, this means giving up their teenage lifestyle, which they carried with them well into middle age, and moving back home with their father. For Phillip, it means making peace with the father who disrupted his adolescence and once again recognizing him as a heroic figure. Even Mr. Carver comes to terms with his past when, dining at a spa, he meets Lewis Shackleford one last time and the two men rekindle the friendship that was broken years before. For each of them, it is only when they come to terms with the past that they can achieve the happiness they seek.
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