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Taft by Ann Patchett

Taft (edition 2007)

by Ann Patchett

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4781221,584 (3.27)13
Authors:Ann Patchett
Info:Harper Perennial (2007), Edition: Reprint, Paperback, 272 pages
Collections:Your library, To read
Tags:Fiction, TBR, a2008

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Taft by Ann Patchett




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"Home seemed a heaven and that we were cast out ..."
-- Henry Green

Ann Patchett's early novel "Taft" (1994) begins with these words from the British novelist, and as I think about the novel in the days after reading it I see that that, in brief, summarizes Patchett's story. Her characters seem to want nothing more than to go back home, back to earlier, happier times, even if those times weren't really as happy or as heavenly as they seem in memory.

The story is told by John Nickel,a black man and a former drummer, who now manages a Memphis bar. His former girlfriend has moved to Florida and taken their son with her. It was her idea that John give up music and get a steady job to better support his son. Now he misses his drums, misses his boy and even misses the ex-girlfriend who refused to marry him.

One day a white teenager named Fay Taft walks into his bar and asks for a job. Against his better judgment, he hires her, the first of many times when he finds he cannot say no to Fay. Soon her brother, Paul, begins hanging out at the bar. It's clear, to John at least, that Paul is high on drugs.

The Taft kids grew up in eastern Tennessee, but when their father died they moved to Memphis to live with relatives. They, too, have been cast out of their heaven.

Complications follow. Paul becomes a dealer, putting John's business in jeopardy. Fay decides she's in love with John and keeps finding excuses to be near him. His girlfriend and the boy return to Memphis, perhaps for a visit, perhaps to stay, but John has made the mistake of having sex with her sister. Then things really turn bad.

The title, oddly enough, refers neither to Fay nor her brother but to their father. There are flashbacks, apparently from out of John's imagination, about him and his kids back home.

This wonderful little novel leaves hints that maybe, just maybe, some of us really can go home again. ( )
  hardlyhardy | Jan 8, 2014 |
John Nickel manages a blues bar in Memphis. He is a former blues drummer who stowed his drum kit when his girlfriend got pregnant. But when she gave birth to their son, Franklin, she still refused to marry him. Now she and Franklin have moved to Florida and he is stuck in the rut of his life, still in Memphis, still managing a marginal bar, still waiting for life to happen. Then into his bar and his life walks gamine Fay Taft, fey in name and nature, seeking employment and more. Fay and her more problematic younger brother Carl are like the re-emergence of a blues cliché, with the promise of sex, drugs, and noire-like violence that brings the story to climax and just as quickly dissipates.

Patchett is usually worth reading even when, as here, she does not entirely succeed in bringing off what she attempts. Along with the main storyline set in the bar, there is a second line, like a backbeat, following the life of Fay’s recently deceased father. But it is unclear what this second storyline is doing, and even more confusing that it appears to be imagined by John himself. It smacks of high concept and design, perhaps, but the result is a muddle.

However, the real problem in this novel is that the narrative voice of John is simply unbelievable. No doubt it is brave of Patchett to even attempt it. But I don’t think she succeeds, as evidenced by the fact that I didn’t even realize John was black until three-quarters of the way through the novel when he explicitly says it of himself. That intrusion feels like an editor’s pen pointing out that even at this late date we have no clear vision of who this man is. Yet this in a first-person narrative. Pretty obviously something hasn’t clicked.

The result is that although the novel is not very long, it simply failed to hold my attention. I kept drifting off. And then the climactic violent final episode just appears, almost out of nowhere, or so it seems. There are better Patchett novels out there and, I hope, more yet to come. This one, though, is best left on the shelf. ( )
  RandyMetcalfe | Sep 2, 2013 |
John Nickel is a decent kind of guy who runs a bar in Memphis called Muddy's. After John hires a teen girl to work in his bar, he finds himself unexpectedly caught up in the drama of her life and that of her drug-addicted brother, who brings trouble into the bar. When John's ex-girlfriend and son return to Memphis and John begins to think that he might once again be able to be a full-time father, his involvement with the two teens leads him into dangerous circumstances. This story is a novel about fathers: the teen's father (Taft) who tried to steer them out of trouble and down the right path, and John, a man whose involvement in the teens' lives crosses employer boundaries, while trying to get his own son back.

I am a big fan of Ann Patchett but this was not my favorite of her stories. The story plods along at times and it was slow to develop to the climax. While the characters were fairly well developed, I didn't particularly liked the two teens and couldn't understand why John went out of his way to help them. The ending was more exciting than most of the novel, though even it seemed rather unreasonable. ( )
  voracious | Mar 21, 2013 |
A story about fatherhood and an exercise in how to weave together unrelated stories and persons into one short narrative. Patchett is a master of this and an excellent writer. ( )
  CynthiaBelgum | Jun 5, 2011 |
I really enjoyed this novel, partly because it is set in Memphis and it is always neat (for me, at least) to read something that takes place somewhere that you have lived. Mostly, though, I enjoyed it because of the strong character at the center. Patchett has such a deft touch, and it was pretty gutsy for her to decide to write a novel from the perspective of this man, whose name we don't even hear until page 90. I read this in about 3 days because it is not too long and keeps you so invested in what is about to happen. No one is let completely off the hook, but no one is punished as harshly as they might be. I really appreciate Patchett's technical strength as a writer, and want to read the rest of her works almost more as study than as leisure. Which is not to say that I don't enjoy her style, because I do very much. ( )
  magritteamour | May 7, 2011 |
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Ann Patchettprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Chalmers, AnneDesignersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Coe, DianaCover designersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Guider, JohnCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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''Home seemed a heaven and that we were cast out...''
For Ann and Jerry Wilson
of Carthage, Tennessee
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A girl walked into the bar.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0061339229, Paperback)

John Nickel is a black ex-jazz musician who only wants to be a good father. But when his son is taken away from him, he's left with nothing but the Memphis bar he manages. Then he hires Fay, a young white waitress, who has a volatile brother named Carl in tow. Nickel finds himself consumed with the idea of Taft—Fay and Carl's dead father—and begins to reconstruct the life of a man he never met. But his sympathies for these lost souls soon take him down a twisting path into the lives of strangers.

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 14:01:45 -0400)

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"John Nickel is a black ex-jazz musician who only wants to be a good father. But when his son is taken away from him, he's left with nothing but the Memphis bar he manages. Then he hires Fay, a young white waitress, who has a volatile brother named Carl in tow. Nickel finds himself consumed with the idea of Taft--Fay and Carl's dead father--and begins to reconstruct the life of a man he never met. But his sympathies for these lost souls soon take him down a twisting path into the lives of strangers"--P. [4] of cover.… (more)

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