Secret and Suggestion in Peter Taylor’s “Allegiance”
An Essayby Ann Beattie
“Allegiance” is sometimes overlooked, when reading Peter Taylor’s stories, because, like its fictional narrator, it’s on the quiet side. It’s about a visit, paid too late, out of context, a betrayal merely because it happens. Taylor wrote plays, and in some ways, this seems to me like a play that is a story. The props are very important. As is the historical moment (the war). There are few possibilities of what the seemingly not very energetic characters might do, in their little space (though I notice the mirror, which gives the illusion of the physical space being larger). I think Harold Pinter would have approved of this story. Yes, it does read like a story of a different time, so that on its surface it seems old-fashioned (please suspend judgment on this notion). But then I need to also hurry to say that its interiority and psychology are modern, and that the writer has set himself what I think is a difficult task: to rely on the reverberation of the story carrying more importance than the struck tines of the tuning fork—especially as the historical period, and the war, is only alluded to, with the main character in uniform, in wartime, in London (ah, Henry Green!). The personal, or interpersonal, has its long history in the past, though to a young man in a strange place, that truth also has to look, well, different—those intractable (and unverbalized) family wounds and grievances.