The Hue and Cry at Our House
The Hue And Cry At Our House is a moving and insightful memoir from Benjamin Taylor, one of the most astute, engaging cultural critics writing today, that uses one transformative year in Taylor’s childhood in 1960s Texas as its jumping off point.
“Proustian” is the word early readers have used to describe Taylor’s transporting reflections on childhood and the struggle of “coming into my own (loveliest phrase in the language)” when marked by otherness from the start. “A repellently good boy,” homosexual, Jewish, on the spectrum in a time when any and all behavioral aberrations were neatly summed up by a few catchall slurs, and a young admirer of Kennedy (then LBJ) in Goldwater country—Taylor is anathema to the mores of the affluent Fort Worth suburb where we witness him grow up.
The hub of this dazzling memoir is an unlikely encounter linking an ordinary childhood to a cataclysmic event in American history. On Friday, November 22, 1963 Taylor is eleven years old and shakes the hand of his hero, President John F. Kennedy, who has visited his sixth grade classroom. Hours later, Kennedy is assassinated and the teacher delivers the news through sobs to an incredulous Taylor, who cannot reconcile this reality with his experience, “having seen for myself that he was indestructible.”
Taylor locates, in the dreams and private tragedies of individual Americans, the trajectories of their families, our American politics and the cultural inheritance of 20th century. The kaleidoscopic lens of THE HUE AND CRY AT OUR HOUSE recalls George Packer’s The Unwinding, and Taylor’s incisive cultural criticism is enhanced by the emotional potency of memoir. THE HUE AND CRY AT OUR HOUSE brings together moving meditations on the nature of childhood and family, time and art, with expertly focused snapshots of a changing American zeitgeist.
Praise and Reviews
“In this lyrical and brilliant memoir, Benjamin Taylor investigates his childhood with piercing clarity and unapologetic nostalgia. His insights are wise, his sense of humor always in evidence, and his yearning for lost time exquisitely palpable. Reading this book is like reading all of Proust in just under two hundred pages. It is an utterly enchanting little masterpiece.”
“In his keen focus on the 1963 death of John F. Kennedy in Dallas, Benjamin Taylor returns to the morning of the assassination in his hometown of Fort Worth when he had the dazzling experience, as a schoolboy, of shaking the hand of the President, his hero. This acute, intense memoir achieves the stature of national as well as personal elegy, a breathtaking accomplishment, classical and impassioned. It belongs to the best American literature of idealism and loss, a profoundly eloquent reading of our mid-century history and its heartbroken legacy to this day.”
“Benjamin Taylor’s memoir is an American classic, but also a Proustian classic: exquisitely attuned to the nuances of adolescence, and to the experience of being an outsider in a world of conventional manners and expectations. It is rare, outside of Proust’s fiction, to find such fearless candor in a consummate prose stylist.”
“What was it like to be a gifted, gay, upper-middle-class Jewish kid (with a touch of Asperger Syndrome) in 1964 Fort Worth, Texas? The answer is brilliantly explicated in Ben Taylor’s memoir, THE HUE AND CRY AT OUR HOUSE, which begins with the assassination of JFK (Taylor shook the president’s hand a few hours before Dealey Plaza) and gains momentum from there. That the author will grow up to be one of our most elegant, multifaceted writers is the final turn of the screw.”
–Blake Bailey, author of Cheever: A Life and The Splendid Things We Planned
“[A] witty, painful, uninhibited, compactly Proustian memoir of, ostensibly, one year of childhood. Within his chosen focus, Taylor achieves a necessary feat of autobiography: The child who grew and the adult who more than remembers live together as one on the page. You encounter vitalistic youth; and sense there, also, the wing of mortality. Taylor’s Hue and Cry is a vast offer of thanks and glowing triumph, his masterpiece to date.”
— Richard Howard
“Benjamin Taylor enchanted readers by his Tales Out of School. He has done it again. The Hue and Cry at Our House, a short elegiac memoir that moves gracefully between the fateful year of President Kennedy’s assassination, when Taylor was eleven, and other moments of searing significance in Taylor’s life, is wondrously candid and deeply moving.”
— Louis Begley
“Reaching the last page of The Hue and Cry at Our House, I found myself marveling that such a slender volume could contain so much wisdom and emotion. Benjamin Taylor writes in beautiful, precise prose about his younger self and his older self, about his parents and his friends, about a life lived over time, and about all our lives lived over time. This is a mesmerising memoir.”
“Taylor has painted a gem-like portrait, in delicate colors and with fine detail, of a childhood in genteel Fort Worth at the end of the Kennedy era, and has written an honest and moving account of a frail, mercurial boy’s struggle to be himself.”
— Caleb Crain
“Historic and cultural incidents dot the crackling narrative . . . Taylor, a lyrical wordsmith, broadens the usual boundaries of memoir writing with his analysis of time and childhood . . . In this skillful blend of dialogue between youth and maturity, Taylor sums up the value and quality of the years of his treasured past and unforgettable present, while stressing the sanctity of life.”
— Publishers Weekly
“Taylor is erudite, often eloquent, and eminently quotable…[A] sage memoir from an elegant writer.”
— Kirkus Reviews
“This is a marvelous memoir that will appeal to anyone who loves good stories and interesting lives.”
— Library Journal