by Ann Patchett

Hardcover, 1994




Houghton Mifflin (1994), Edition: 1st, 305 pages


John Nickel is a black ex-jazz musician who only wants to be a good father. But when his son is taken away from him, he's left with nothing but the Memphis bar he manages. Then he hires Fay, a young white waitress, who has a volatile brother named Carl in tow. Nickel finds himself consumed with the idea of Taft--Fay and Carl's dead father--and begins to reconstruct the life of a man he never met. But his sympathies for these lost souls soon take him down a twisting path into the lives of strangers.

User reviews

LibraryThing member heidialice
When John Nickel, 34-year-old manager of a Memphis bar hires a 17-year-old white waitress, he hardly knows what he is getting into. The story looks at loyalty and relationships in front of a backdrop of race issues in modern times.

The first third or so of this book is pretty much flawless, on its
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way to one of my top books in a while. But the seemingly unnecessary gimmick of Nickel imagining (or channeling?!) what early life was like for the kids is distracting and doesn’t serve a useful purpose. Either switch between the two viewpoints and really get inside Taft’s head, or make it less detail-rich. It’s just bizarre and slightly creepy as written. The tension builds deliciously, but the resolution is sadly unsatisfying, and smacks of melodramatic YA lit. Maybe Patchett will get back to her roots with her next one, since it seems her first novel (Patron Saint of Liars) is the one I like best.
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LibraryThing member laytonwoman3rd
John Nickel, manager of a bar in Memphis, hires a young white waitress. Although he has some reservations about Fay's age and ability, she seems to be working out well enough. She also seems to be developing a bit of an attraction to the older black man, which he doesn't quite know how to handle.
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Is this a longing for a father figure, her own father having died fairly recently, or is it something else? And then her brother Carl, almost her twin, shows up and becomes part of the increasingly unsettling picture. Nickel has some domestic issues of his own, and starts to create these kids' previous life in his imagination, focusing on their father, the "Taft" of the title. We know what Taft did for a living, how he died, and that his children loved him and miss him. Beyond that, however, his character as presented to the reader is entirely Nickel's invention. As the story flows on, Nickel seems to be drawing on this mental image to guide him in his relationship with his own young son, and in his response to Fay and Carl. Unfortunately, he falls into a common parental trap, attempting to protect a child from the consequences of its own actions. It is nearly a fatal mistake. Up until the final plot development I was ready to give this novel a very high 4 or 41/2 star rating. The writing is fine, the characters felt authentic, Nickel was just flawed enough to be interesting, but not so much that you wanted to shout at his obvious errors in judgment. But in my view Patchett sort of jumped the shark with her climactic events, and I had a tough time believing a crucial piece of the action. It was a "that couldn't happen" rather than a "nobody would DO that" situation, and even while caught up in the story I couldn't quite suspend my disbelief. So. 3 1/2 it is.
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LibraryThing member siri51
A well told story with intense characters - didn't like the imaginative bits interspersed into the narrative. It was good to read on the train.
LibraryThing member lycomayflower
The story of John, a black ex-drummer who runs a bar in Memphis and finds himself increasingly drawn into the lives of his white, seventeen year-old waitress and her brother. The waitress, Fay, confesses herself to be in love with John, and John is certainly intrigued sexually and emotionally by
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her. Patchett subtly explores John's unease with Fay's youth and race, and for the first half of the book I was intrigued and enthralled with John as a character. But by the halfway point, it seemed as if the story wasn't really getting anywhere and I found it a struggle to finish. The second half deals a bit more with Carl, Fay's brother, and the trouble he finds himself in, and while that story was potentially just as interesting as Fay's, the connection between the two halves seemed not quite well-enough fleshed out. The Taft of the title is Fay and Carl's father, who died a few months before the opening of the novel. We get scenes from Taft's point-of-view from the months prior to his death, but they are imagined by John. That these third-person point-of-view scenes spring from John's imagination and are not actually told from a narrator outside the action of the story is clear in the beginning, but Patchett stops reminding us that that is what's going on eventually, and the result is a bit disjointed. A neat experiment in showing the reader how much Fay and Carl have entered John's consciousness, but somehow it just doesn't sit right in the end. Good writing and compelling to a point, but ultimately somewhat unsatisfying.
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LibraryThing member ASArmoudlian
This was my least favorite of all the Patchett books. If you like her stuff, it is still worth reading, but don't expect too much.
LibraryThing member michaelbartley
nice easy read, I enjoy ms patchett's writing and in this book she showed great range. i think it has to challeging for a writer to write outside of their experience. for a man to write from a woman's view or the other way around. in this novel ms patchett wrote not only from the man's view point
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but also a black man. reading the book she makes all the characters real and beliveable
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LibraryThing member RandyMetcalfe
John Nickel manages a blues bar in Memphis. He is a former blues drummer who stowed his drum kit when his girlfriend got pregnant. But when she gave birth to their son, Franklin, she still refused to marry him. Now she and Franklin have moved to Florida and he is stuck in the rut of his life, still
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in Memphis, still managing a marginal bar, still waiting for life to happen. Then into his bar and his life walks gamine Fay Taft, fey in name and nature, seeking employment and more. Fay and her more problematic younger brother Carl are like the re-emergence of a blues cliché, with the promise of sex, drugs, and noire-like violence that brings the story to climax and just as quickly dissipates.

Patchett is usually worth reading even when, as here, she does not entirely succeed in bringing off what she attempts. Along with the main storyline set in the bar, there is a second line, like a backbeat, following the life of Fay’s recently deceased father. But it is unclear what this second storyline is doing, and even more confusing that it appears to be imagined by John himself. It smacks of high concept and design, perhaps, but the result is a muddle.

However, the real problem in this novel is that the narrative voice of John is simply unbelievable. No doubt it is brave of Patchett to even attempt it. But I don’t think she succeeds, as evidenced by the fact that I didn’t even realize John was black until three-quarters of the way through the novel when he explicitly says it of himself. That intrusion feels like an editor’s pen pointing out that even at this late date we have no clear vision of who this man is. Yet this in a first-person narrative. Pretty obviously something hasn’t clicked.

The result is that although the novel is not very long, it simply failed to hold my attention. I kept drifting off. And then the climactic violent final episode just appears, almost out of nowhere, or so it seems. There are better Patchett novels out there and, I hope, more yet to come. This one, though, is best left on the shelf.
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LibraryThing member hardlyhardy
"Home seemed a heaven and that we were cast out ..."
-- Henry Green

Ann Patchett's early novel "Taft" (1994) begins with these words from the British novelist, and as I think about the novel in the days after reading it I see that that, in brief, summarizes Patchett's story. Her characters seem to
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want nothing more than to go back home, back to earlier, happier times, even if those times weren't really as happy or as heavenly as they seem in memory.

The story is told by John Nickel,a black man and a former drummer, who now manages a Memphis bar. His former girlfriend has moved to Florida and taken their son with her. It was her idea that John give up music and get a steady job to better support his son. Now he misses his drums, misses his boy and even misses the ex-girlfriend who refused to marry him.

One day a white teenager named Fay Taft walks into his bar and asks for a job. Against his better judgment, he hires her, the first of many times when he finds he cannot say no to Fay. Soon her brother, Paul, begins hanging out at the bar. It's clear, to John at least, that Paul is high on drugs.

The Taft kids grew up in eastern Tennessee, but when their father died they moved to Memphis to live with relatives. They, too, have been cast out of their heaven.

Complications follow. Paul becomes a dealer, putting John's business in jeopardy. Fay decides she's in love with John and keeps finding excuses to be near him. His girlfriend and the boy return to Memphis, perhaps for a visit, perhaps to stay, but John has made the mistake of having sex with her sister. Then things really turn bad.

The title, oddly enough, refers neither to Fay nor her brother but to their father. There are flashbacks, apparently from out of John's imagination, about him and his kids back home.

This wonderful little novel leaves hints that maybe, just maybe, some of us really can go home again.
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LibraryThing member CynthiaBelgum
A story about fatherhood and an exercise in how to weave together unrelated stories and persons into one short narrative. Patchett is a master of this and an excellent writer.
LibraryThing member voracious
John Nickel is a decent kind of guy who runs a bar in Memphis called Muddy's. After John hires a teen girl to work in his bar, he finds himself unexpectedly caught up in the drama of her life and that of her drug-addicted brother, who brings trouble into the bar. When John's ex-girlfriend and son
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return to Memphis and John begins to think that he might once again be able to be a full-time father, his involvement with the two teens leads him into dangerous circumstances. This story is a novel about fathers: the teen's father (Taft) who tried to steer them out of trouble and down the right path, and John, a man whose involvement in the teens' lives crosses employer boundaries, while trying to get his own son back.

I am a big fan of Ann Patchett but this was not my favorite of her stories. The story plods along at times and it was slow to develop to the climax. While the characters were fairly well developed, I didn't particularly liked the two teens and couldn't understand why John went out of his way to help them. The ending was more exciting than most of the novel, though even it seemed rather unreasonable.
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LibraryThing member raefichter
This book is often overlooked, but is really good. I love that Ann Patchett just gives you a slice of the characters' lives. She doesn't bombard you with information about each character because she wants you to draw your own conclusions. Just as John Nickle creates a story of Taft and his
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children, we, as readers, are asked to do the same. Patchett tells the story, but it's up to the reader to decide motivation.
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LibraryThing member porch_reader
This is Ann Patchett's second novel, written before [Bel Canto] made her one of my favorite authors. In it, she takes us to Memphis, where ex-jazz musician John Nickel manages a bar. When Fay Taft walks in to apply for a job as a waitress, we join Nickel in knowing almost nothing about her that can
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be observed from her exterior. But gradually we learn about the tragedies that she and her brother Carl have faced. Nickel, whose life is also in upheaval, comes to care deeply for Fay, and over the course of a few weeks, they make an enduring mark on each other's lives. While nothing compares to [Bel Canto], this is a well-told and compelling story.
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LibraryThing member bookworm12
John runs a bar in Memphis and spends his days wishing he could spend more time with his son Franklin. He hires a young waitress, Fay, and her brother Carl becomes a fixture at the bar. John finds himself imagining what their life was like before their father, Taft, unexpectedly passed away. I will
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read anything Patchett writes and this was the last of her books that I hadn't read. It's not her best, but for a 2nd novel it shows a remarkable range in point of view. If you're new to her work I'd recommend starting with Bel Canto. The Dutch House, This Is a Story of a Happy Marriage, and The State of Wonder are all excellent as well.
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LibraryThing member knitwit2
John, a former drummer turned bar manager is suffering from some sort of mid life crisis. He says he wants to "do right" but frustratingly goes wrong at every turn. Making the reader wonder how he got this far in life when his current ability to make decisions is so shockingly poor. His long term
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girlfriend has taken their son and left Memphis for a better life in Miami (a questionable decision on her part). Just as it looks like she is coming back he sleeps with her sister. Meanwhile he has hired a hillbilly, Fay from eastern TN to work as a waitress in his bar. She is underage and continually tries to lure him into a relationship - bad on two counts - this could shut the bar down and potentially land him in jail. To complicate matters Fay's junkie brother, Carl has taken to dealing drugs out of the bar. John barely notices until other employees demand he intercede. While reading this I kept thinking, "Well, this can only end badly." I wasn't wrong.
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LibraryThing member technodiabla
Dueling stories of two fathers (one white, one black) trying to do right by their children. They make mistakes, drama ensues as their lives intertwine. Short read that I recommend highly.
LibraryThing member kpf506
Brother and sister involved with a bar manager. Taft is the overriding figure guiding the decisions in the story ... Taft is the father (dead) of the brother and sister. Marion and Franklin are the family of the African American bar manager.
LibraryThing member Castlelass
A black man named John Nickel runs a bar in Memphis. He meets Fay Taft and hires her as a server, despite the fact that he believes she is underage. Her brother, Carl, is mixed up with drugs. Their father (the titular Taft) has died, and their mother is not around. Nickel begins imagining the life
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of their father, though they had never met.

Nickel is an interesting character. He is an ex-drummer. He is estranged from his ex-girlfriend and mother of his son, who has moved to Miami. He made some mistakes earlier in life, which he acknowledges, but very much wants a relationship with his son. I think we are supposed to admire him but his actions make this difficult.

For me, the structure of this story does not work very well. It mixes up what is real (Nickel’s life) with what is imagined (Taft’s life with his kids). I am not sure I understood the point of the imagined storyline. Perhaps Nickel is dreaming a fatherhood he would like to have with his own son? If so, it was a weak link. I think it would have been much more effective if the storyline had focused on Nickel. The plot takes a strange twist toward the end, which did not work for me. It was okay but not Patchett’s best in my opinion.
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LibraryThing member detailmuse
Carl and Fay were the brother and sister in the fairy stories, the pretty white babies holding hands in the forest. Everything in the world was waiting to eat them up. This was not the job I was meant for, looking after other people’s children…

Black musician/bar manager John Nickel has grown
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more responsible in the years since he disrespected his pregnant girlfriend to the point that she omitted him from his son’s birth certificate. But is he up for the problems presented by a couple of teen siblings who are without their own father?

In an essay at the end, Patchett laments “the curse of the second novel” (in her case, Taft), and admits that it might be her favorite despite its “failure to thrive” in the marketplace. It’s one of my favorites by her, too.
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LibraryThing member nivramkoorb
Ann Patchett is one of my favorite writers. This is an early book by her and admittedly it is not up to the same level as her later works. That being said it is an interesting story that takes place in Memphis. It involves race relations but is more about people being pulled in different directions
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while trying to figure out how to conduct their lives. It is a good story about the South and the pull of family that takes us into the less than positive directions when it comes to our personal decisions. A worthwhile introduction to Patchett but if you are short on time then skip to her later stronger works.
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LibraryThing member msf59
John Nickel is a black ex-drummer, managing a Memphis bar. He is settled into a comfortable routine, until he hires a white, teenage waitress and his life slowly begins to upend. I like the characters and the writing is mostly fine but the storytelling never really took off. A bit of a misfire for
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Patchett but it was only her second novel.
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LibraryThing member Lisa02476
Not my favorite Patchett, but a good read


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