The Hue and Cry at Our House: A Year Remembered

Ben­jamin Taylor
  • Review
By – September 7, 2017

The Hue and Cry at Our House: A Year Remem­bered by Ben­jamin Tay­lor | Jew­ish Book Coun­cil

Ben­jamin Tay­lor’s The Hue and Cry at Our House is a jew­el of a book. Tay­lor details a sin­gle year in his life, start­ing on Novem­ber 22, 1963, when, as a sixth-grad­er, he shook Pres­i­dent John F. Kennedy’s hand in Fort Worth, Texas. He uses this moment as an anchor to reach for­ward and back­ward in time to touch oth­er events and occur­rences. His choice of struc­ture is utter­ly con­vinc­ing: A year becomes all the years. The defin­ing facets of his child­hoodbeing rich, gay, Jew­ish, and Texas-bredare uni­ver­sal­ized through Tay­lor’s thought­ful, sen­si­tive reflec­tions. In the face of cur­rent polit­i­cal and cul­tur­al divi­sive­ness, it is a gift to see threads of one’s own expe­ri­ence woven into a com­plete­ly unfa­mil­iar life. That Tay­lor can tease out those threads with grace and econ­o­my is a tes­ta­ment to his skill as a writer and inquis­i­tive com­pas­sion as a human.

His roots are as improb­a­ble as his lat­er suc­cess­es: His ances­tors fled pogroms and set­tled in Texas thanks to the benef­i­cence of Jacob Schiff and the Galve­ston Move­ment in the ear­ly 1900s. His moth­er and father were non­re­li­gious, solid­ly mid­dle-class, and lat­er wealthy, some­times striv­ing to fit in, at oth­er times proud­ly dif­fer­ent. They lived almost the exact same num­ber of days on this plan­et, most of them spent togeth­er. Tay­lor and his old­er broth­er were the first in their fam­i­ly to not speak Yid­dish. The mor­ph­ing, shift­ing, and adapt­ing of Jew­ish iden­ti­ty with­in a dom­i­nant (and wild­ly antag­o­nis­tic) cul­ture may be the back­bone of much anti-Semi­tism, but that sur­vival forged the oppor­tu­ni­ty for Tay­lor, a self-described tip­toe walk­er, a hand-flap­per, a nin­ny under pres­sure and a shriek­er when fright­ened or angry. A mor­ti­fi­ca­tion,” to exist in the full com­plex­i­ty of his queer, book­ish, athe­ist, Jew­ish and mild­ly autis­tic self. 

Tay­lor’s acco­lades and crit­i­cal acclaim are glow­ing to the point of sus­pi­cion, yet his career out­put isn’t exact­ly pro­lif­ic. That con­trast exists, it seems, due to Tay­lor’s care­ful han­dling of his sub­ject mat­ter. Hue and Cry is no excep­tion, as Tay­lor recounts both tragedy and epiphany with the becalmed per­spec­tive of some­one who has already lived a com­plete life. Offered the chance to have life over again from the start, I know I’d say no,” he writes. Young again? When the great­est sat­is­fac­tion has been get­ting old­er? Young for what? To endure again the thou­sand nat­ur­al shocks? When what I want now is to earn my grave? I’ve picked it out and the plot is paid for.”

The lit­er­ary qual­i­ty of Hue and Cry, which tells its sto­ry with­out the con­straints of lin­ear chronol­o­gy, is a clear result of Tay­lor’s life in books, not least of which is his work on Proust and Saul Bel­low. That a deep rela­tion­ship to fic­tion can make the real” world more man­age­able is a sense shared by many read­ers, and Tay­lor’s mem­oir serves the same pur­pose. Even though he recounts lived events, they’re tint­ed by nos­tal­gia and made lit­er­ary in the style of their telling. Lit­er­a­ture […] exist­ed to con­vince me that oth­er peo­ple were as real as I was,” Tay­lor writes. With its del­i­cate yet pro­found han­dling of a sin­gle year in a sin­gle life, Hue and Cry con­tributes to the dif­fi­cult task of shap­ing a shared and empa­thet­ic reality. 

Nicole Loef­fler-Glad­stone is a dance artist, chore­o­g­ra­ph­er, cura­tor, writer and edi­tor liv­ing in NYC. Read her dance crit­i­cism atThe Dance Enthu­si­ast and peep her cura­tion @thebunkerpresents.

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