TALES OUT OF SCHOOL by Benjamin Taylor


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 A luminous debut novel set in turn-of-the-century Galveston, Texas, the first fiction from this small literary press. Taylor, author of a collection of essays (Into the Open: Studies in Genius and Modernity, not reviewed), writes in a richly poetic language steeped in time and place, a powerful style that well supports the tale of the Mehmel family, ``a people for whom life had become too hard.'' The Mehmels, like many other Eastern European Jewish families, immigrated to the port city of Galveston at the end of the 19th century. Having established a successful European-style brewery there, the elder Mehmel believes his family to be firmly rooted in the adopted country. But then his eldest son is swept away in a flood, his other son, a fey aesthete, seems interested only in bird-watching, and the legacy is left to teenage Felix, the son of the drowned heir. Felix, too, however, is a dreamer of uncertain sexual orientation, forever studying Latin texts with a middle-aged intellectual woman who openly lives with another woman. While trying to keep their foothold in the new land, the Mehmels are also struggling with their old faith. The local rabbi, another Eastern European ÇmigrÇ, pleads with the Mehmel widow to keep the old ways while he himself wrestles with religious doubts that have plagued him since he was a rabbinical student. These doubts were sown by a nomadic stranger who gave him questioning texts, and this same Elijah-like figure may or may not be the drifter who appears in Galveston at a time when all faith lapses. Taylor's magical, expressive language pulls the dense themes rapidly along, and even though he does sometimes poeticize to the point of confusing the action, his writing in general is engaging enough to make for tolerance in the reader. A beautifully rendered, moving, original debut. (Author tour)

Pub Date: Oct. 15th, 1995
ISBN: 1-885983-04-2
Page count: 284pp
Publisher: Turtle Point
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1st, 1995


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