A Summons to Memphis Study Guide

A Summons to Memphis

A Summons to Memphis by Peter Taylor

A Summons to Memphis is a novel by Peter Talyor published in 1986. The novel centers around the Carvers, a once-wealthy Southern family that lost much of its money in bad investments during the Great Depression. The book focuses on the relationships between the controlling Mr. Carver and his children, who are hurt by their fall from prosperity and never end up marrying. The novel deals with themes of friendship, family, the social and political changes of the South and redemption.

A Summons to Memphis Book Summary

As the story unfolds, Phillip reflects on the major incidents in the life of his once well-to-do family, which was forced to leave Nashville during the time of the Great Depression after the older Mr. Carver, a distinguished lawyer, lost a great deal of money in failed investments with his then-friend and business associate Lewis Shackleford. Though this happened when the four Carver children were still in their teens, they recall the event as a great betrayal, and the resulting move had a major impact on them and continues to affect their abilities to build stable relationships and function as adults. Their lives were further dominated by their father as he ended romantic relationships for his children if he disapproved of them for any reason.

Ultimately, the oldest Carver son would join the army and die in World War II. Neither Phillip nor his sisters ever marry. His sisters maintain an odd continued adolescence well into their fifties, dressing as though they were still attractive teenagers. Phillip moves to New York and lives with a younger woman whom he will never marry. The "summons" to Memphis in the book's title refers to several events, but chiefly a call by Phillip's sisters to return and help them block their then-octogenarian father from remarrying after the death of their mother.

The book is a rumination on the responsibilities of parents, friendships between men, the relationship between the "old" and "new" south, the nature of revenge and the possibility of forgiveness.

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