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28 of 29 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars a luminous, clear-sighted book
This lovely collection of stories presents some of the most complete short fiction ever produced. Each story (averaging around thirty pages) tells everything that needs to be said about their characters. Their lives are there in their entirety. These are real stories of a simplier time, in a pleasent,more docile place. And what happens as modern day begins to seep...
Published on May 13, 1999 by asphlex

versus
3.0 out of 5 stars The title story is a classic, the rest is not bad
Peter Taylor, from an upper class Southern family and a Harvard man, is the kind of writer one doesn't see that much of these days. If he transgresses, he does so politely, with an awareness of the sensiblities of the civilized white reader. His characters are mostly proper, well-off white Memphians, yet their lives are frequently involved with the less fortunate,...
Published on February 2, 2012 by T. Burrows


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28 of 29 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars a luminous, clear-sighted book, May 13, 1999
By 
asphlex "asphlex" (Philadelphia, PA USA) - See all my reviews
This review is from: The Old Forest and Other Stories (Paperback)
This lovely collection of stories presents some of the most complete short fiction ever produced. Each story (averaging around thirty pages) tells everything that needs to be said about their characters. Their lives are there in their entirety. These are real stories of a simplier time, in a pleasent,more docile place. And what happens as modern day begins to seep in, casting a gloom on all the old glories of the past. These people do not understand what is happening. They are upper class rich white folks of the near south, clinging to an old way of life that is somehow becoming irrelevent. It's the coming and,later, the going of The Great War, when Hitler was making it life or death, and the ole red white and blue is gonna die fighting. This is how life seems to these privilaged folks, and their uneasy relationships with their Jim Crow servants is starting to show signs of wear and tear, and even the good ones are acting all uppity and haven't they always been decent to their HIRED HELP?
Attitudes like this were very much in existence during the eras where these narratives take place.
Now I usually don't go in for stuff this tame, but the emotion is true, the stories are wonderful and any aspiring writer could learn more from this book than any creative writing class could teach (unless they taught the book--then, good job.) This is how you want to tell a story. Not style, not mood or tone or pitch or pace--this is what a beginning, a middle and a climactic end should look like. It is a model of short fiction. You know how plays have acts and novels have chapters? Here is the short story
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24 of 26 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars About people, not just the South, May 2, 2000
This review is from: The Old Forest and Other Stories (Paperback)
I have trouble with assessments of great writing that tend to subordinate every concept to setting. We know that Chekhov wrote about the Russian provinces, Cheever wrote about WASPs in New England, William Trevor writes about lower middle-class Ireland, and Faulkner wrote about Mississippi. We also know that Taylor writes about the upper South (not the so-called "Deep South" that some others have mentioned). So what? What many of us realize, but often fail to mention, is that Taylor is writing about the human condition, as all of these great writers have. I'm a firm believer in the notion that the setting is incidental--a product of the world Taylor understood. So, as we can say with Chekhov, Cheever, and Trevor, Taylor writes about people. We appreciate these stories because they are about us, whether we're from Maine, Mississippi, or Maryland. If you have any belief in a universal human condition (whatever that may be), in the truth inherent to archetypal stories about people, you'll find that the setting only serves as the metaphorical framework in which the author works. It's our own problem if we have trouble shedding our regionalism, not Taylor's. Also, this book is not an obituary to the death of any particular culture, but a celebration of life and universal human relationships. How can "The Gift of the Prodigal" be about anything but that? Who would say that "The Gift of the Prodigal" is about Charlottesville, VA? So, by all means read this book. Don't be turned off by its Southern setting or its WASPy characters anymore than you would be turned off by Chekhov's rural Russia.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Complexities of simple life, June 10, 2006
This review is from: The Old Forest and Other Stories (Paperback)
This is a fantastic collection of short stories by the master of the genre in Southern literature. Each takes place in the old south of the 1930's and 40's and are stories of simple events of everyday life. However, these simple events are not so simple because of the complex and unusual social structure and race relations. Taylor masterfully brings out the tension beneath each relationship and in each seemingly simple situation in a way that accurately transmits the feeling of this most troubled time and place. Two of the stories "Bad Dreams" and "Two Ladies in Retirement" appear in another collection "The Widows of Thornton" but are worth rereading.

You can read about the old south and Jim Crow before the Civil Rights movement in history books but Taylor, along with other great writers such as Richard Wright, help you feel and understand the myriad of unresolvable conflicts, unstated resentments and tensions simmering just below the facade of life.

Taylor masterfully documents how Blacks and Whites live intimately and form a greater family unit with mutual yet unequal duties and obligations, live so close yet be separate and far away. He also shows how domestic servanthood for Blacks was very much like slavery in that they were free but highly dependent on their white employers. Long-term domestics even form family-type relationships with each other.

My favorite stories are "Bad Dreams" and "The Old Forest." Don't miss this wonderful collection.
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20 of 27 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Wonderful prose but I can't relate, December 16, 1999
This review is from: The Old Forest and Other Stories (Paperback)
I have a confession to make. I don't like these stories. I recognize the strengths of Taylor's story telling - the elegant language, the depiction of emotional tension in simple things, the clear progression of 'story' or theme from setup to inevitable conclusion, but I can't get past a deep dislike for his characters. This is a personal failing. Taylor's fiction depicts a world that is inhabited almost exclusively by a certain class of affluent, white, middle class city dwellers whose lives are bounded on the upside by manners, fashion and ritual (in imitation of an upper class to which, presumably, they aspire)and on the downside by a stiff reticence and correctness of behavior to insulate them from their inferiors (not only their black servants but also whites of a lesser social and economic standing). I grew up in Nashville, TN at a time when this world was rapidly passing away, but I have met people, more than a few, who could have stepped from the pages of these stories, and almost without exception developed a deep antipathy for them. Their overt arrogance which seemed to mask a great fear of the world 'outside' always made social intercourse with such people strained and unsatisfying. There is nothing like being politely condescended to to make the recipient want to deliberately break convention and strike through the mask. So it's personal.
I have read, and reread, these stories enough to see that Taylor's characters are frequently as frightened of change and the possible corruption of contact outside their little world as I had sensed in the real Taylor-type folk I have met. There is great skill in his presentation of this tension, but it doesn't lead me to empathize, much less sympathize, with his characters.
Any given person's response to a piece of fiction is going to be colored by a host of factors over which the author has no control, and no writer ever had universal success at generating the response he desires the reader to have. In the case of my response to Taylor's stories, I fear that my dislike of the specific milieu (and its inhabitants) that is his chosen subject will forever keep me from a full appreciation of his work.
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3.0 out of 5 stars The title story is a classic, the rest is not bad, February 2, 2012
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This review is from: The Old Forest and Other Stories (Paperback)
Peter Taylor, from an upper class Southern family and a Harvard man, is the kind of writer one doesn't see that much of these days. If he transgresses, he does so politely, with an awareness of the sensiblities of the civilized white reader. His characters are mostly proper, well-off white Memphians, yet their lives are frequently involved with the less fortunate, particularly the black folks whom they employ. His prose is very nicely put together, with a good amount of realistic detail, along with interesting insights into his characters. In fact many of these stories turn on the subtle revelation of a character, or the true nature of a relationship. His big subjects seem to be family relationships, loyalty (of family members, of servants and masters), and the interdependence of white and black folks in the South.

'"The Old Forest" is the best story here, and it was encountering this that made me want to read more of his work. It is a real classic, a gracefully written, almost novella-length tale of troubled young romance and class in the South. In it, a young man of means is running around with a lower class girl in the weeks leading up to his marriage to a proper young lady. This kind of behavior is quite the norm in the world of this story, and the guy is a decent sort, but still totally clueless as to the feelings he may be arousing in others and the pain he could cause them. He gets into a car accident, and his semi-paramour flees the scene and vanishes, thus causing a big problem for all concerned. The police begin looking for her, and his wedding has to be postponed. Finally his fiancee takes charge and begins to sort things out.

I was hoping the other stories would be up to this standard, but most of them are not - which is not to say they are bad, just that they are not as riveting and outstanding. "A Friend and Protector" was fascinating and eloquent, the story of a troubled black servant and the white family that always rescues him and forgives him. "The Little Cousins" is a nice look at the excitements of a bourgeois Memphis childhood, and is one of several stories that looks at the relations of young folks and their elders. In "The Gift of the Prodigal", a rascal of a son provides his bored, lonely father with some vicarious excitement. "A Long Fourth" was also very enjoyable, a study of an extended family, focusing on the matriarch, as it goes about a summer get-together. There is not much of a plot, but the piece as effective as a family portrait in a certain time and place.

If you are interested in Southern literature and stories of bourgeois families, this is well worth a look.
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5.0 out of 5 stars A Great Collection, July 10, 2011
By 
J. Smallridge (Kansas City, MO USA) - See all my reviews
This review is from: The Old Forest and Other Stories (Paperback)
The Washington Post's Jonathan Yardley called "The Old Forest" the greatest American short story. The story is amazingly powerful -- touches on issues of race, class, love, family -- and will haunt one long after finishing it. Some of the other stories in this collection are equally exceptional and involve complex situations-- my two favorites include "Rain in the Heart," which reminded me of a world my grandparents must have experienced and "The Gift of the Prodigal," which reminded me that imperfections often are what makes life worth living.
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3 of 6 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Two Ladies in Retirement, December 14, 2008
This review is from: The Old Forest and Other Stories (Paperback)
In this book of short stories, I chose this one because of the locations and main character. Miss Betty moved from Nashville to St. Louis in 1926 where she had unofficially adopted the Tolliver family as her own. For years, her cousin Flo had "visited" but Miss B. had sold her ancestral home on West End Avenue for a new start in life. She had a rivalry with the black cook for the young boys' devotion. They enjoyed listening to the old stories.

Christmas was the time -- and the only time -- when she was allowed to give expensive present like bicycles. She had to compete with the storytelling of the servants, especially the old cook who always had a chocolate cake hid to entice their favor. Even Amy, the mother, treated her Southern servants with the same miixture of cordiality and formality she used with her neighbors. Their home was on the underground railroad.

Much is made of in-house maneuvers and wrong doings. It was a time when the world was changing, preparing people for one thing and giving them another. An unexpected ending makes you wonder exactly who is the winner.

'The Old Forest' and rest of the stories are based on Taylor's family and appeared in such magazines as 'The Kenyon Review,' 'Sewanee Review,' 'The New Republic,' and 'The New Yorker' of which "Two Ladies in Retirement" is an example. He was the precursor of James Agee, writing personal accounts of Old South, 30 years apart. Things were never the same for this area after the Civil War and reconstruction. Not many went to St. Louis as in this sordid account, as the carpetbaggers came to us to change and ruin gentility and our way of life.
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6 of 13 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars What trees?, January 28, 2003
This review is from: The Old Forest and Other Stories (Paperback)
There are amongst the hundreds of styles of short story, those that hug the side of pure narrative and those that offer a snippit of the complexities of human life. Of the latter, there is none greater than Anton Chekov, but modern masters also abound... Tobias Wolfe comes to mind. In my reading of Peter Taylor's "The Old Forest and Other Stories", I couldn't help but feel that his audience has passed. I enjoyed many of the stories, some quite alot, but they did not speak to me. They did not resonate. Personal favorites like 'Promise of Rain','The Scoutmaster', and 'The Gift of the Prodigal' contain more of an element of a narrative style, sprinkled with those ominous gaps that lie behind a person's mind. The titular story is perhaps my favorite except for its being bogged down with expository literacy. I have a distinct feeling that I have read a book that added to my knowledge of writing and reading as a whole, but I have not read a book in which I have thoroughly enjoyed.
With full acknowledgments for the differences in taste, I must express a total dislike of many of the other stories: the final play, 'The Death of a Kinsman' in particular. The underhandedness disguised as cleverness on the writer's part is obfuscating and patronizing. In fact, I think patronizing is a good word to sum up the collection. However, good writing intentionally raises opinions. If you've come so far as to read the reviews on this page, it might just be worth investigating these stories yourself.
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The Old Forest and Other Stories
The Old Forest and Other Stories by Peter Hillsman Taylor (Paperback - August 15, 1996)
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