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The last few years have brought Taylor to a somewhat larger audience than the fierce band of cognoscenti who for 30 years have known the man as perhaps the best writer of short fiction in the land. But hardly is a word ever said about the comedy--the high comedy--that runs through most all the stories. Maybe with this novel, Taylor's second (A Woman of Means is its predecessor), recognition of how uncomfortably funny a writer Taylor is and always has been will finally come. Philip Carver is a rather placid New York book editor who shares an apartment with Holly Kaplan, a fellow-worker. Originally he's from Memphis--actually Nashville, but the family left there after a wounding traducement involving the father's business partner--and suddenly, now, he's called back: a crisis. His octogenarian father, newly widowered, is getting frisky: appearing at Memphis nightspots with younger women, and finally threatening even to marry one. Philip's unmarried sisters, successful realtors, are beside themselves trying to prevent the old man from making himself more and more ridiculous-seeming. Of course, things aren't exactly how they seem: the father is actively courting, yes--but the sisters are also taking their revenge for the father's patrician and unforgivable lifelong involvement in their lives (this is a Tennessee Lear, in its own addled way), and it's to Philip they turn: the old man must be stopped--yet he can't be, of course. . . .and though the marriage not surprisingly falls apart, there are worse humiliations to come for these meddlesome middle-aged children. Taylor as always writes in the most measured, calm manner, so that the surprises and the humbling human understanding he so effortlessly throws in seem barely to ruffle the surface. Philip is a wonderful character, as are the sisters and the father--and there's a side-character, a childhood friend of Philip's, who may be the most pathetic/attractive permanent provincial in contemporary literature. An extraordinary book by this very great writer--every inch the classic.

Pub Date: Oct. 6th, 1986
ISBN: 0375701176
Publisher: Knopf