Book Review: Happy Families Are All Alike by Peter Taylor

peter taylor 001 m“Undisputed master of the short story form.” says Anne Tyler.

“He comes as close as an American writer can to rivaling Chekhov.”
says The New York Times.

Happy Families Are All Alike, the title, is of course mocking
Tolstoy’s opening to Anna Karenina.  And it’s true because Peter
Taylor makes it true, that unhappy families are unhappy in
different ways.

This great book that I bought in London has ten, only ten, wonderful
stories—crisp and clean, can’t put them down.  I limited myself to
one a night, and even then didn’t want to finish.

“Venus, Cupid, Folly and Time” received first prize in the 1959
O. Henry Memorial Awards.   This is the story of an elderly brother
and sister living in a small town who throw a party once a year for
the town’s wealthier young people.  It’s a tradition that’s been in
effect as long as the townsfolk can remember.  The children don’t
necessarily want to go, but no one refuses.

These stories are about simple families, but simple families with
tensions and problems that others in town might not guess at.
Often the stories are about adolescents and fitting in, or not
daring to cross class lines.

They take place in the midwest and the south, Tennessee.  But they
could have easily taken place in your own home town, and maybe
they did but nobody wrote them down.

Years ago I read A Summons to Memphis and The Widows of Thornton
by Peter Taylor, but I don’t remember anything about them.  When I
started this book I fell in love again with the short story form.  One
thing led to another with my putting Raymond Carver’s “Where I’m
Calling From” (stories) on my summer reading list, and after reading
the forward in that I borrowed a big fat book of short stories about
love from the library.  I wish you’d select a Peter Taylor story from
some collection or other and let me know if he keeps you up at night,
too.

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