A workmanlike biography of the noted southern writer.
Peter Taylor (1917–94), the Pulitzer Prize–winning author of A Summons to Memphis and other novels, collections of stories, and plays, was the scion of an aristocratic Tennessee family whose patriarch abandoned small-town life for the bright lights of Nashville. Privileged and well-educated, the adolescent Taylor fell in with Nashville’s intelligentsia, at the center of which was the poet and critic Allen Tate, who, Taylor recalled, “made literature and ideas seem more important than anything else in the world, and you wanted to put everything aside and follow him.” Taylor’s earliest published work showed the influence of Tate and other writers of the Southern Agrarian movement, but, as McAlexander (English/Univ. of Georgia) observes, he soon moved beyond the symbolic, ideological program of the Agrarians to “probe the issues of perception, communication, love, and freedom that would engage him throughout his career.” After uneventful military service in the closing months of WWII, Taylor entered graduate school at Kenyon College and struck up a long friendship with the poet Robert Lowell; he later taught at Kenyon, Indiana University, the University of Virginia, and other colleges and universities in the Midwest and South, all the while publishing short stories in the New Yorker and books that would be alternately damned as ersatz Faulkner and championed as the rising voice of the New South. Unlike the mercurial Lowell (or Faulkner, for that matter), Taylor lived an exemplary life. Married for 51 years, abstemious, and evidently happy, Taylor had only one quirk: a passion for buying and selling houses, which nicely supplemented his professorial salary and royalties. The outright normality of his life, however, translates into an absence of juicy anecdotes of the sort that make biographies of writers so entertaining. Lacking any real drama—save the occasional real-estate coup—McAlexander’s narrative is respectful and thorough. And not much fun to read.
Of use and interest to students of southern letters and postwar American fiction.