Taylor (Proust: The Search, 2015, etc.) leans on gay and Jewish perspectives to craft a memoir of 1963-1964, with the touchstones of his youth still resonating today.
The author, who teaches at Columbia University and the New School's Graduate School, may be revered for his work, but this slender volume is somewhat less than the sum of its parts. “Trusting to what comes handiest,” there is lovely, atmospheric writing and a deft interplay of his former and current selves. Taylor is erudite, often eloquent, and eminently quotable, though occasionally he exudes a whiff of the effete. Random recollections defy immediate connection, and though the author usually gets around to tying the thread, we are sometimes left wondering what the point may have been. He reveals a cozy childhood and valiant parents, wherein no familial scourge—alcoholism, madness, discord, abuse—found a purchase. Nor was money an issue for this largely secular Jewish family of Texas, not after his father made a killing in the market. Perhaps to a fault, Taylor celebrates the past. His mantra: memory clarifies while nostalgia obscures. But are not they forged of similar materials, and is memory not just as prone to gloss? It seems that what has departed from his life feels more substantial to him than what remains, that he is more active in memory than in life, and that he prefers the “sunlit, lavishly hospitable past” to a present that seems insubstantial. His successful life in letters and in academe would seem to belie this self-consciously literary wish to inhabit the past. In certain areas, the author is off the mark, not least in his too-narrow definition of what constituted “the Sixties” and in a cynical dismissal of “privileged” Vietnam War protestors.
An occasionally problematic but mostly sage memoir from an elegant writer.