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by Ann Patchett
ISBN 034543353X / 9780345433534 / 0-345-43353-X
Publisher Ballantine Books
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Families are not simply made up of blood relations; this Ann Patchett understands better than most. John Nickel used to be a jazz drummer, but now runs a bar in Memphis, Tennessee; the mother of his son has taken the boy away, to unimaginable Florida; Nickel is left to find family where he can. What he finds are the Tafts: Fay and Carl, sister and brother, adrift in Memphis after the death of their father, the Taft of the title. Nickel gives Fay a job as a waitress; twice her age, black when she is white, he is torn by the nature of his feelings for her, drifting uneasily as they do between fatherly and sensual.
As in her later novel, The Magician's Assistant, the spiritual motor of the novel is a character dead at its beginning: Taft, the absent father. Bereft of his own son, Nickel conjures Taft as the perfect father to children lost without him. But this is a darker novel, its ending less hopeful--less magical, though Patchett's prose is wonderfully beguiling--but perhaps more truthful for that.--Erica Wagner [via]