Benjamin Taylor’s childhood memoir is founded on the smart conceit of encompassing the experiences of a lifetime within the framework of a single year. It is his intention, he observes at the outset, ‘to wrest from the stream of time what happened to the Taylors and the nation between November 1963 and November 1964. But any twelve months could stand for the whole.’ The Hue and Cry at Our House opens early on the morning of Friday 22 November 1963, with the eleven-year-old Benjamin reeling into the classroom of Westcliff Elementary School in Fort Worth, Texas, and announcing to his beloved teacher Mrs Westbrook and his fellow pupils, ‘He shook my hand! This hand!’. Everyone present knew that the ‘he’ the excited boy was referring to so proudly was the president of the United States, who had begun the day with a five-minute speech to the crowd outside the Hotel Texas, before addressing the elite Texans who had paid to hear him over breakfast in the hotel ballroom. Then, before the start of afternoon lessons, the boys and girls were called in from the playground to hear Mrs Westbrook tell them that a ‘very great man died in Dallas today’. That man was John F Kennedy.
Few autobiographies get off to such a dramatic start, but it is Taylor’s purpose here to relate a historical event to his sense of personal loss. He does so without over-emphasis. He reminds his readers of the hero-worship Kennedy inspired among left-leaning and liberal Americans, who had rallied