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Tales Out of School: A Novel by Benjamin…

Tales Out of School: A Novel (edition 2008)

by Benjamin Taylor

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783154,388 (3.88)1
Title:Tales Out of School: A Novel
Authors:Benjamin Taylor
Info:Zoland Books (2008), Paperback, 304 pages
Collections:Benjamin Taylor's Influences, Your library, Favorites
Tags:Benjamin Taylor, fiction, prose, interviews

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Tales Out of School by Benjamin Taylor



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Story about early 20th-century Galveston, the big hurricane, and a German-Jewish family is apropos for a transplanted Canadian German-Jew living in Houston! The characters are pretty peculiar, but the funky story lines, complete with magical realism, make for a great social commentary on the various themes. ( )
  sushitori | Aug 1, 2013 |
Tales Out of School by Benjamin Taylor is about the fall of a wealthy family. Descendants from displaced German Jews the Mehmel family is one of the wealthiest in Galveston, Texas. The family started the first brewery in the area, grew rich off if it, and has spent most of the fortune by 1907 when the novel opens.

There are two sons, Aharon and Leo. Aharon has good business sense but he marries Lucy, a Catholic girl he meets on a trip to New Orleans. They have one son Felix before Aharon has a brief affair that leaves him with syphilis and Lucy with no opportunity for more children. The other brother, Leo, never marries. He lives alone in one of the better hotel rooms in Galveston studying birds and investing his part of the fortune in plans for building a glider.

Aharon's son, Felix forms an unhealthy bond with a local bully, Wick. The two spend time alone together in what appears to be an abusive sexual relationship. Felix has much in common with his uncle, Leo. Both are probably gay, though since it's 1907 neither character nor the narrator is open about this. Both are interested in high culture--Felix spends his free time studying Latin and practicing music. Both are drawn to lower class men as well. In spite of this, Felix rejects his uncle and ultimately the rest of his dysfunctional family to run off on his own.

There is enough in Tales Out of School to fill several novels. The characters are richly constructed and have such complicated lives that any one of them could be the sole subject of the book. The problem is that none of them are. The all share the stage equally, more-or-less, which produces an unsatisfying product in the end. The reader gets to know everyone well enough to be impatient with them but not well enough to be empathetic or even sympathize with them really. Mr. Taylor provides a glimpse into the lives of the Mehmel family, enough to get our interest certainly, but not enough to make us understand. This is one of the few times I've found a book under-written. Had the book been twice as long, I would have liked it much more. ( )
  CBJames | Mar 13, 2009 |
Benjamin Taylor is a writer in full control of the tools available to a practitioner of the language arts. His prose is elegant, his language intoxicating; the stories he tells are rich in detail, full of import, and of intricate disposition. His techniques have been assembled over a lifetime of reading: Nabokov, Bellow, Hemingway, Cather, Isherwood, Woolf. From these and others he has learned unconventional dialog, the trick of presenting action by catalog, the appropriation of history and science, psychology and religion, all of which he brings to bear in the creation of “fully fleshed and blooded” characters. It seems possible to descend from the “L” to a corner in Chicago and encounter Gabriel Geismar from Taylor’s latest novel, “The Book of Getting Even,” walking slowly past, musing over the material composition of the cosmos:

It was simultaneously dawning on the three or four best cosmological minds: the multiverse, universes budding from one another, a profusion of universes without beginning or end, our own the merest upstart in the myriad. Universes without beginning or end — this bright idea, with its reintroduction of eternity, infinite regress and infinite progress, universes forever abounding, whispered to Gabriel that perhaps he hadn’t come so far from Terpsichore Street after all since, soberly considered, he was only putting eternal Nature where the eternal God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob used to be.” (Pgs. 85-86)

One might even chance upon the magical puppeteer from “Tales Out of School” who, on one’s way home in the afternoon, might approach with his spelling board and introduce himself:

“Old? He was older than old. With a neck as skinny as a cart shaft; and bug-eyes, signifying pathos; and nowhere the trace of a smile.
“Who are you, mister?” Felix asked at the corner of Post Office and Twelfth. He in particular, and Galveston in general, were interested to know.
The ancient of days said nothing, unbuckling his grip instead and taking from it a little board furnished with the letters of the alphabet. S-c-h-m-u-l-o-w-i-c-z, he spelled, pointing to each letter in turn. I—a-m—S-c-h-m-u-l-o-w-i-c-z.” (Pgs. 121-122)

Taylor’s characters are made for a particular time and place, but they embody what persists in human experience, regardless of context: the pain of youth, the pleasure of tenderness, the bewitching impulse to create. In this last he is as much a student as he is a teacher. Every sentence is expertly wrought, designed to wake the brain, combining, as the best writing does, meaning with music and artifice with import. From such language he builds authentic albeit imagined worlds wherein satisfying, sometimes painful, dramas unfold, proving that in contemporary literature one finds, even on a single page, the artful, the imaginative, the credible and the fantastic.

— Carlin M. Wragg, Editor, Open Loop Press
  OpenLoopPress | Jan 8, 2009 |
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It is the story of the Mehmels, privileged and eccentric and headed into shipwreck, and of fourteen-year-old Felix, last of their line, who takes his rise from the family ruin. The place is Galveston Island. The season is summer. The year is 1907. Erotic as it is spiritual, homely as it is exalted, insistently comical as it is deeply sad, a book of life's inevitable opposites.… (more)

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