I first found out about Peter Taylor when I checked out a few textbooks on southern literature from the library. I was trying to make up for my ignorance, and all the southern author snubbing I’d done when I was younger, when all the books I read were either by British writers or expats from the Midwest. I still regret not taking the one southern literature course offered in college. Especially since it was given by my favorite professor, who had studied in Florida and—if I’m remembering correctly, though chances are I’m not—did her thesis on Katherine Anne Porter and Eudora Welty, and talked up Zora Neale Hurston a lot. But in those days I wasn’t interested.
Now I want to know as much as I can. So I read through a bunch of short stories by authors I’d never heard of before, and though I really liked a few of them, none of them affected me as much as Peter Taylor’s “Venus, Cupid, Folly and Time.” It’s an eerie story, sort of a gothic allegory set in a fairly ordinary small Southern town, complete with trouble-making kids, a fading mansion, and eccentric, elderly siblings who hold a strange power over the town and who may (or may not) have an even stranger secret. As soon as I started reading, I was hooked. And when I finished, I went online instantly to buy a book of Taylor’s collected stories.
Most of the stories I’ve read so far are just as engaging as “Venus, Cupid, Folly and Time.” They draw me in from the start, even when the subject matter isn’t something I’d normally be interested in. But most of the time the themes and settings are exactly the kinds that I like. The stories are often set in Taylor’s native Tennessee during the 1930s and ’40s, when the Depression and the war were adding to the social and racial tensions already brewing in the South. But instead of going broad in scope, Taylor usually goes narrow, focusing on small groups of people—families, mostly—and how they deal with change and how they adjust to living in a world that’s not at all like the one they were born into.