THE college friend of this book's narrator, Nathan Longfort, is one Robin Maury. One day after class, he compliments the "all but illiterate" art history lecturer, who "was allegedly a painter himself": " `I like the picture, sir. I think it has quite meretricious detail!' "
" `Thank you very much, Maury,' said the professor. `I pride myself on that.' "
Throughout this stealthily crafted novel the reader is encouraged in innumerable small ways to stop and think again. In the Tennessee Country began its life in "Cousin Aubrey", one of the stories of The Oracle at Stoneleigh Court, Taylor's collection published last year. It is not difficult to understand how the story seemed so suggestive and full of life to its author that he had to let it germinate and fruit. The character of Cousin Aubrey haunts this new book; he is an illegitimate cousin of (or rather of "irregular kinship" to) the senatorial Southern family whose iron loyalties, intrinsic drollness, talk and over- consideration fill the novel.
Aubrey fell in love with Nathan's mother Gertrude when she was only 14. Of course Nathan was not there, but his two aunts, his mother's doting sisters Bertie and Felicia, somehow tell him about it. His dignified mother never gossips or acts indecorously, save when she recites, and then she seems to her son, for whom she wants the life of an artist, to be possessed. Other family members are more consistently possessed; by love, by the bottle (or silver flask), and by death. Nathan himself becomes not an artist but an art historian, though around him art is growing in the dark, at his side in his conjugal bed and in the cot next door. …