Tales Out Of School

Tales Out Of School

The strange hothouse world of Galveston Island has been good to the Mehmels, German Jewish immigrants who prosper there in the late nineteenth century, and whose second generation is still flush when we meet them as the century turns. But destruction — moral and natural, including the great hurricane that nearly destroyed the city — is not far off, and for bookish, fourteen-year-old grandson Felix, last of the line, salvation lies in self-discovery. Pried away from his Ovid and Virgil, he is seduced by the rough, handsome bully who has always taunted him. And over the sultry summer of 1907, he asserts his independence, launching into manhood even as his family’s morale, sanity, and fortunes wane. Erotic as it is exalted, defiantly comic as it is sad, Tales Out of School is a significant, enduring novel by a masterly writer, poised to take his place at the forefront of contemporary American fiction.


“Taylor’s first novel combines grand lyric musings with realistic social commentary. Containing a character with arcane powers, it is at times a disquieting mixture of the magical and the mundane.”
Library Journal

“A luminous debut novel set in turn-of-the-century Galveston, Texas…Taylor[…]writes in a richly poetic language steeped in time and place, a powerful style that well supports the tale of the Mehmel family, ‘a people for whom life had become too hard.’ Taylor’s magical, expressive language pulls the dense themes rapidly along…A beautifully rendered, moving, original debut.”
Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

“A winning, eccentric first novel.”
Village Voice

“The real magic in Tales Out of School…is the full-throated voice of the narrator with its beautiful dips and accomplished soarings, it’s lovely, limitless, lyrical range… A tour de force…Often, when a book is good, you want to slow down and read it out loud. When it’s this good, you want to sing it!”
—Stanley Elkin

“Dryly humorous and moving, learned and colloquial, lyrical and richly suggestive…Taylor’s vision is an idealistic one, but it is nonetheless effective.”
—Frank Egerton, Times Literary Supplement

“The story of a wealthy Jewish family’s decline in turn-of-the-century Galveston, Texas, it’s also a mythic tale in which a spinster Latin tutor is a sibyl, a 14-year-old boy’s curiosity about the father he lost in a hurricane is paralled with Aeneas’s journey to the underworld, and the prophet Elijah arrives in the ‘Ellis Island of the West’ in the guise of a mute elderly immigrant who gives puppet shows and spells out his every utterance on an ‘alphabet board.’

Taylor uses dark elements — syphilis, drowning, laudanum addiction, madness, bankruptcy, suicide — as ribs on which to stretch a fabric of reverie, youthful hope, homoeroticism, and comedy. It’s an unlikely contraption, too clever by half. We can hear it creak as it rolls down the runway.

Yet it flies.”
—Michael Harris, Los Angeles Times

“The novel is about other days and other people: their eccentricities and interdependences. But the wonder of the book is its style. Through that, it is made to be a story that draws the reader into an enchanting moment and holds the attention from sentence to sentence. Benjamin Taylor’s real achievement is to restore the tension and magic of song to narrative.”
—Eavan Boland

“[A] powerful first novel…Taylor’s spare, supple prose easily accommodates effective forays into magic realism as well as nuanced evocations of the desire, religious doubt, and affection that animate his memorable characters.”
Publishers Weekly (starred review)

“All the great themes…sibling rivalry, generational conflict, birth, death, and the magical, miserable phenomenon of love [are here]…The beauty of Taylor’s language ratchets up and down from lyrical exposition to hardscrabble dialogue. His elaborate idiom allows him to sound certain metaphysical depths, to explore what he calls ‘this abyss of humanness into which we reach, not knowing where the bottom lies.'”
—James Marcus, Newsday


Warner Books Publicity
Interview for Paperback Edition
Spring, 1997

Tales Out of School
Review by Sandee Brawarsky
The New York Jewish Week
March 7, 1997

Tales Out of School
Review by Frank Egerton
The Times Literary Supplement
July 26, 1996

Tales Out of School
Review by Michael Harris
Los Angeles Times
November 13, 1995

Tales Out of School
Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
August 1, 1995