An open access publication of the American Academy of Arts & Sciences
Summer 2008

Murder One: Mad Dog Taborsky & me

Elizabeth Benedict

Elizabeth Benedict is the author of five novels and “The Joy of Writing Sex: A Guide for Fiction Writers.” Her essays and articles appear in many publications, including “The New York Times,” “Tin House,” “Salmagundi,” and “The Huffington Post.” She teaches at the New York State Writers Institute and at Brooklyn College. Her website is

The city’s celebrities had little in common but a taste for the westbound train. Katherine Hepburn left in 1928. Mark Twain came for twenty-one years and departed. Harriet Beecher Stowe came and went several times, spending twenty-four years in a house across the lawn from Twain’s. Sophie Tucker went west but returned to be buried in the Emanuel Synagogue Cemetery in nearby Wethersfield, on the same hill as my father’s parents. John Gregory Dunne and Dominick Dunne grew up in West Hartford. Norman Lear and my father attended Weaver High School together. The exception is Wallace Stevens, who arrived in 1916, to work for the Hartford Accident and Indemnity Company, and never left.

Even with all this talent, the city has never become the object of a literary obsession. It’s not Joyce’s Dublin, Philip Roth’s Newark, or Walker Percy’s New Orleans, not only because no writer has made it so but because it is, as the local saying has it, a “land of steady habits,” steeped in reliable dullness and New England equanimity. The men in their gray flannel suits have helped keep a lid on local temperaments, it seems, since the insurance industry began there in 1794. Few words have been written about it by its most celebrated scribes and none for which the writers are known.

Those of us who left–I was three in 1958 when my Hartford-born parents moved away–don’t rage against the city or feel spellbound by it. Most are content to say simply: Lucky me, I got out. But in my quiet obsession with my abandoned hometown, I sometimes wonder who I might have become if my father hadn’t taken us to settle eventually, when I was eight, in the city of ambition, to a posh new building he could not afford on the Upper East Side of Manhattan. And who might my deracinated mother have been allowed to be if she hadn’t been forced into the role of sophisticate, with a negative bank balance and a mean, alcoholic husband?

It may only be that I am haunted by Hartford, by which I also mean West Hartford. Although we left when I was three, I am not a stranger there. We visited often when I was a kid, and as an adult, I am there frequently to see many of the same relatives and family friends. In recent years, I have passed through every few months, traveling between the two cities where I live, New York and Boston. Even if I have no plans to stop, when there is traffic on I-84, I sometimes take a shortcut across town to another interstate entrance and feel strangely soothed as I pass by shopping centers, cemeteries, familiar streets. Nothing spectacular, only an unaccustomed feeling of belonging. I have an identity there based on who my parents were and my grandparents, who came there a hundred years ago, give or take a decade, from Odessa, Lithuania, Palestine, and Perth Amboy, New Jersey.

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