I love southern literary fiction. Ann Patchett’s novels, somewhat new to me, satisfy as fully as some of my enduring favorites. I just completed reading Taft this week. It’s the story of Levon Taft, a father who has failed to raise perfect children.
He works himself to a frazzle; he provides to the best of his abilities. But his children, Carl and Fay, stray. Carl falls into drugs and dissolves into tragedy after tragedy. Fay flees to Memphis from the hills of east TN. She goes to work in a bar. She is veiled, evasive, and filled with appetites for a world she is too naive to understand as seventeen-year-old and, near the end of the narrative, an eighteen-year-old girl.
Then there’s the first-person narrator of the novel, John Nickel, the bar manager and former drummer, whose wife (Marion) left him, and took their son, Franklin. John, too, like Levon Taft, is a failed father. But John Nickel, in his way too, works hard–real hard–to provide, to sweep up the shards of his life, as well as the lives of others intersecting with his life.
Patchett’s Taft is a book about wounded men doing the best they can with what they have. They hold a lot of pain in, and they often make poor choices, but they–in the end–love. Is their love salvific? No. But is it still in some way redemptive? Yes, in a sense within the arch of the storyline.
This is a well-written, tender love story about men and dads who have blown it but persevere, aiming to sweep up the glass from a shattered world.
They love like tough, wounded warriors who are trying to be better than they are.