Tales Out Of School

Tales Out Of School

by Benjamin Taylor
     
 

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The strange hothouse world of Galveston Island, Texas, has been good to the Mehmels, German Jewish immigrants who prosper there in the late nineteenth century, and whose second generation is still flush as the century turns. But destruction – moral and natural, including the great hurricane that nearly destroyed the city – is not far off, and for

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Overview

The strange hothouse world of Galveston Island, Texas, has been good to the Mehmels, German Jewish immigrants who prosper there in the late nineteenth century, and whose second generation is still flush as the century turns. But destruction – moral and natural, including the great hurricane that nearly destroyed the city – is not far off, and for bookish, fourteen-year-old grandson Felix, last of the line, salvation lies in self-discovery. Pried away from his Ovid and Virgil, he is seduced by the rough, handsome bully who has long taunted him. And over the sultry summer of 1907, he asserts his independence and launches into manhood even as his family’s morale, sanity, and fortunes wane. Erotic as it is exalted, defiantly comic as it is sad, Tales Out of School is a timeless novel by a masterful contemporary writer.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
Winner of the Harold Ribalow Prize

"All the great themes... sibling rivalry, generational conflict, birth, death, and the magical, miserable phenomenon of love... The beauty of Taylor's language ratchets up and down from lyrical exposition to hardscrabble dialogue. His elaborate idiom allows him to sound certain metaphysical depths, to explore what he calls 'the abyss of humanness into which we reach, not knowing where the bottom lies.'" Newsday

"Elegant, lyrical, elegiac [and[ powerful... Taylor's spare, supple prose easliy accomodates effective forays into magic realism as well as nuanced evocations of the desire, religious doubt and affection that animate his memorable characters."— Publishers Weekly (starred review)

"Beautifully rendered, moving, original ... Taylor writes in a richly poetic language steeped in time and place." Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

"Some prose invites being heard .... Benjamin Taylor's language is lush, exotic, at times peculiar, as befits a novel set in Galveston Island, Texas, where the extraordinary finds a fertile environment at the beginning of this century. Catholic, Jew, redneck, homosexual — these mix, marry, exchange vocabularies and dialects. Latin and Hebrew are sung on the Texas shore. It's a setting where Taylor feels confident to fit rare words to a rare locale." The Riverfront Times (St. Louis)

“Dryly humorous and moving, learned and colloquial, lyrical and richly suggestive. …Taylor’s vision is an idealistic one, but it is nonetheless effective.” Times Literary Supplement (London)

Tales Out of School reads like a haunting and significant dream, the key to a precious life.” — Lily Tuck

“A magical and mysterious work.” — Edward Albee

“A lyrical evocation of time recaptured . . .[and]of stories interconnected and so hauntingly told that we are hypnotized by the sheer force of Taylor’s style. I have not read paragraphs this good, this informed about history…in quite some time.” — Sanford Pinsker (Philadelphia Jewish Exponent)

“A tale of the Tribe as enmeshed with the harebrained circumstance as it is with heretical myth. Classical resonance, I learn from reading this affectionate affabulation, has nothing to do with grand scale, it is the grand style that works the mystery—and the mischief. What a lovable, brilliant recital!” — Richard Howard

“I enjoyed the book immensely; it is a wonderfully beguiling vision.” — Amitav Ghosh

“The novel is about other days and other people: their eccentricities and interdependencies. But the wonder of this book is its style. Through that, it is made to be a story that draws the reader into an enchanting moment and holds the attention from sentence to sentence. Ben Taylor’s real achievement is to restore the tension and magic of song to narrative.” — Eavan Boland

“I didn’t want the book to end, and its long reverie stays with me.” — Rachel Hadas

“One of the great novels of the decade. If you have to, steal a copy.” Gay Times (London)

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Elegant, lyrical and elegiac, this powerful first novel affectingly introduces members of a genteel, wealthy German-Jewish family living in early 20th-century Galveston, Tex. Felix Mehmel, scholarly and loyal, works his way through the Aeneid and through adolescent stirrings of desire, which he acts upon with Wick Frawley, once a bully and now a friend. Felix's mother, estranged from her New Orleans Christian community for marrying a Jew, finds herself vulnerable once more after her husband dies during the 1900 hurricane. Her brother-in-law Leo becomes the enthusiastic sponsor of Roache and Munger, amateur ``aeronauts'' who model themselves after the Wright brothers. The mysterious and benign interventions of Yankel Schmulowicz, a mute immigrant from Russia, who stages puppet shows so realistic that the audience is spellbound, indelibly alter the lives of these people and others in their orbit. Taylor's spare, supple prose easily accommodates effective forays into magic realism as well as nuanced evocations of the desire, religious doubt and affection that animate his memorable characters. Because he handles so many different characters in a short narrative span, some of them inevitably are less than full-bodied actors in his human comedy. It is a measure of his skill that even those met briefly in this bewitching novel continue to resonate in the reader's imagination. Author tour. (Oct.)
Library Journal
Soon after immigrating to Galveston Island, the Gerson Mehmel family attains wealth (as brewers of Sweet Brook beer) and social prominence. A few decades later, bankruptcy, disease, and madness wipe out all their gains. The able elder son, Aharon, marries outside his Jewish faith, contracts syphilis, and dies in a hurricane. The effete younger son, Leo, watches birds and loafs. As the sole member of the next generation, Felix is a precocious adolescent who quotes Virgil, attempts to fly, and experiments with homosexuality. Meanwhile, his mother suffers the inner turmoil of having been raised a Catholic, converting to Judaism, and becoming an apostate to both religions. Taylor's first novel combines grand lyric musings with realistic social commentary. Containing a character with arcane powers, it is at times a disquieting mixture of the magical and the mundane.-Albert E. Wilhelm, Tennessee Technological Univ., Cookeville

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781581952278
Publisher:
Steerforth Press
Publication date:
04/08/2008
Pages:
304
Product dimensions:
4.97(w) x 7.53(h) x 0.68(d)

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