One of Faulkner's comic masterpieces, The Reivers is a picaresque that tells of three unlikely car thieves from rural Mississippi. Eleven-year-old Lucius Priest is persuaded by Boon Hogganbeck, one of his family's retainers, to steal his grandfather's car and make a trip to Memphis. The Priests' black coachman, Ned McCaslin, stows away, and the three of them are off on a heroic odyssey, for which they are all ill-equipped, that ends at Miss Reba's bordello in Memphis. From there a series of wild misadventures ensues--involving horse smuggling, trainmen, sheriffs' deputies, and jail.
Well, somehow, I found myself with a Faulkner, usually the height of erudition but nonetheless qualifing as a 'summer read',
The depth of this work (and it is not devoid) is in the perfection of its little tableau of life in Mississippi and Memphis 100 years ago; other Faulkner works challenge that society, plumb its conflicts, and explore its inner workings - the Reivers simply lays it out there with a little chuckle, a little 'heh, heh, heh' (which is the refrain used by Ned, the stablehand lurking in the background most of the time but driving the action forward all of the time). Yes, Faulkner can't resist a bit of philosophizing, and his indelible stamp is indeed on the book's relatively stark language. But the book stays with the action - this is a page turner.
The range of Faulkner's work continues to amaze me, from film scripts to simple short stories to absolute masterworks of fiction. And this, my dears, is Faulkner's 'beach read'. Now, I must go pick up Absalom, Absalom or I'll start to feel guilty as well as amused.
Style: Faulkner evokes the time-and-place-and-people convincingly, but confusingly. Chapter 1 would flunk any first-year college student, and at no time do all the family relationships and history come clear.
The encounters Lucius has over the next few days are as exciting as those of Huck and they lead him to meditate on his own innocence and its loss. Early on he recognizes this thinking, "You see? I was doing the best I could. My trouble was, the tools I had to use. the innocence and the ignorance: I not only didn't have strength and knowledge, I didn't even have time enough."(p 55) Later in their adventures, after Ned has traded the stolen car for a race horse, Lucius reflects further, "It was too late. Maybe yesterday, while I was still a child, but not now. I knew too much, had seen too much. I was a child no longer now; innocence and childhood were forever lost, forever gone from me."(p 175)
The novel is not all serious moments of reflection like these; for there is the excitement of the horse races, Lucius' friendship with the Corrie, the prostitute, and his experience with the negro old Possum and his family. The adventures, while real for Lucius, seem to exist in a fairy tale world as the fun overshadows any sense of danger. Through it all there are just enough ties to Faulkner's earlier work through genealogy and character (Ned was present in several tales of Go Down, Moses) to make this a fitting bookend to his career. In it you see a mature author brilliantly developing yet another view of a young boy's coming of age.
I was most impressed by Faulkner's observations and his ability
I also loved the characters that Faulkner created. Reivers is another word for the thieves, and the thieves in this story are 11-year-old Lucius Priest, Boon Hogganbeck (an employee of Lucius's family), and Ned McCaslin, the family's black coachman. They take off for Memphis is Lucius's grandfather's car and soon find themselves in quite a predicament. Faulkner creates a deep and rich picture of each character, making them real, complex, and interesting. The story itself seemed secondary to introducing us to these characters and the zeitgeist of their times.
This is supposed to be one of Faulkner's more light-hearted and easy-to-read books, and I agree with that assessment. Despite its serious topic, it has a subtle humor throughout. The plot tends to be pretty loose and easy to follow. The characters are strong and endearing. Overall, I found the book quite enjoyable and am pleased that I chose this Faulkner book to read, rather that one of his heavier books. I do want to read his heavier books, but sometimes it's nice just to read something light-hearted by one of the best American authors.
While on the trip, Lucius encounters a number of people and situations that greatly expand what up until then had been a rather limited view of world. A partial list of his activities during the weekend jaunt includes staying in a whorehouse, getting in a fight over the honor of a prostitute, being part of a scheme to steal a racehorse, serving as a jockey in the subsequent stakes race, lying to and evading the law, and meeting some of the worst people he has ever known. To say the least, the whole experience is one that he will never forget as well as one that indelibly shapes his future, which makes the whole tale a sweet and affecting coming-of-age story.
This was the last novel that Faulkner wrote in his long, celebrated career; in fact, it was published just a month or so before he died and about a year before the book received a posthumous Pulitzer Prize. It is also the most straightforward and accessible of the author’s novels (compared to the other ones I have read, at least) which has caused some critics to relegate it to the status as a “lesser work”. That may be the case—The Sound and the Fury and As I Lay Dying are truly amazing—but it should be said that The Reivers is really great storytelling with some wonderfully drawn scenes and memorable characters. Beyond that, it is a very funny book that has the ability to both engage and charm the reader. To paraphrase an old saying, they just don’t write them like this anymore.
Finally, another Pulitzer-Prize winning book I enjoyed. Immensely. The Reivers is, like The Great Gatsby and All The Kings Men, a good story made great by the manner of its telling. Faulkner lets you think this is just the story of Lucius Priest, an eleven
Written in Faulkner's unmistakable style that is simultaneously educated and everyday, The Reivers is a clash of idiocy and wisdom set in 1905 America, when a car on the road caused people to stop and watch it drive by. You will laugh out loud at the surprises Faulkner springs on you, and shake your head as Ned's attempts to disentangle Lucius, Boon and himself from the mess he has created only leads to more trouble. Through the book's details you appreciate how far we have advanced, both technologically and socially, regardless of how much we can still improve. And in the end Lucius, though still eleven and not a man, will no longer be a child.
A less-serious book than Faulkner's better known works such as The Sound and the Fury and As I Lay Dying, The Reivers is nonetheless equally worth reading.
I have a checkered history with picaresque novels. I could not finish Don Quixote but The Adventures of Augie Marsh is one of my favorite books. I loved The Goldfinch but Kim almost turned me
The very basic outline of the story is strong. Our band of merry reivers includes a buffoon (Boon), a resourceful black man (Ned, who was part of the same family as the white characters but this is Mississippi in the early 20th so black and white people being part of the same family meant something different from what it would now), and 11 year old Lucious Priest, (which is a fine name!) who was left in their care while his parents attend a funeral. The reivers steal a car, sell it for a horse, hang out in a brothel where they make friends aplenty, somehow get the horse to another town where they race the horse using questionable tactics, and get the car back. This is Faulkner’s last book (the Pulitzer was awarded posthumously) and it mostly reads like the ramblings of an old man. Faulkner was only 63 when he finished this book but he sounds like celebrated old crank Andy Rooney. Here we have Faulkner recalling a moment when the world began to change from horses to cars and trains. He is telling that story of change 40 years later as the country lives through another seismic shift. This is written immediately in the wake of the decision in Brown v. Board of Education and the Montgomery Bus Boycott, and at a time when Kennedy was in the White House. Faulkner would have heard that MLK was championing the Second Emancipation Proclamation and would have watched peaceful marchers attacked by police in segregated Albany GA (we say Al-Binny down south btw.) Perhaps most impactful, he likely watched out his office window when riots erupted on the campus of Ole’ Miss when snarling white folks fought to block James Meredith, a black Air Force veteran, from attending classes.
I think Faulkner was a relatively good man (well, he prodigiously and publicly cheated on his wife, but I don’t judge) who knew he was wrong in opposing desegregation. I believe he publicly said something along the lines of it being a good idea that should not be forced. I expect as he was watching the racist melee out of his office window at Ole Miss he had some feelings to work through. He saw the parallel, the fear of change that to him was reminiscent of the resistance to the necessary changes wrought by the industrial/automotive age he saw as a boy. I suspect for all his “go slow” public statements about desegregation he knew that without force we would never see desegregation. I think I see what he was doing here, and it is intended to be a noble thing. But the book still didn’t work for me. The fact that this, his last novel, showed nostalgia for travel by horse is ironic in light of the fact that his death immediately after finishing the book was caused by injuries sustained after a fall from a horse. Resist change at your peril.
A couple notes: I am a Faulkner fan. I really love his books I have read from the 20s and 30’s but I don't connect with Yoknapatawpha County and I don't think his stabs at the comic novel worked. I was not crazy about this, and I stopped reading Wild Palms after perhaps 25 pages because it didn’t work for me. Also, the N-word is tossed around casually and frequently here, and the black characters are portrayed in stereotypical ways for the most part - they really know how to party and are content to live lives in the shadow of the white folks who have so much less fun than they do. Women fare no better, though he acknowledges that most all of the women's lives are made worse by men. Mostly the women we spend time with are hookers with hearts of gold and deep desires to do men’s laundry and have sex with other men to get their chosen men out of trouble. No question it is offensive, at least to me. That said, I imagine it reflects his memory of how white people thought and talked in the early 20th in Mississippi, and I expect it was not a wholly inaccurate recollection. Faulkner certainly had more information to work with than I when he made these choices.
Okay, I will shut up now. Hopefully, this is enough to let you know if you should read this one.
Before I take on that not-so-newly-acquired mantle (many have accused me of idiocy in the past), let me explain that I came to this book from a good place. While I have read only three of Faulkner’s novels, I am a fan. (I still find myself, at the oddest times, revisiting The Sound and the Fury in my mind.) Even the one book that was a disappointment was still better than most anything else we find ourselves reading.
But, with this book, I am again disappointed…a little.
First, let’s talk about the writing style. The narrator is Lucius Priest and he is telling the story of a boyhood adventure. So, we are awash in a combined vernacular of the rural south and an old man. Of course, Faulkner is a master of the style – in particular, of the various Southern speech patterns – and if you read Faulkner expecting something a little more proper, then you should just take the detour to something else right now. But in this instance – in the telling of what is a straightforward story – this seems to get in the way of that story. Eventually, I was able to read past this style – succumbing to the flavor rather than running aground on the actual words – but the problem was never far from evident. (In particular, I was driven crazy by the “word-asides”, a term I made up because I don’t know what else to call them. Constantly, the narrator says something to the effect of “he [that is Boon and I]” or “we [I mean just Boon].” This device of the old man clearing up his pronouns as he tells the stories gets old and in the way.
And my other issue is that this seems to be meant to be a rollicking tale. Lucius, Boon (a family friend and employee of Lucius’ grandfather), and Ned (a black man who also works for the grandfather) steal the grandfather’s car and travel to Memphis where they get involved in a horse race intended to win back the car and an extra horse to boot. It is a madcap adventure with travels through muddy back roads, a house of ill repute, ladies of the evening who are redeemed (and others who are not), and a grand old time being had by all. But, for me, it doesn’t rollick. It is a good story. But it gets buried in its attempts to have a good time. And, ultimately, it may be that age has worn off the veneer of humor and good times that was meant to be portrayed.
All of this distracts from what is a very moving story. I hate the phrase, but I have no other way to put it – this is a coming of age story. And that “coming of age” stuff sneaks up on you. Lucius grows up very fast, and yet, at the end, is still a boy. And that is exactly what happens to all of us. We grow up in spurts and we often grow past the age we really are.
The humanity of this part of the story stands in stark contrast to the “fun” of the story. And it is meant to do that. It is exactly the effect that was intended.
At this, the novel succeeds.
It would have been very easy for me to dismiss what was being said or even just give up because I wasn’t getting into the flow. But I would have been poorer by having succumbed to the urge flee. And, while I never bought into all the vernacular and the rollickingness of the good times, I still believed in and felt for Lucius.
And that is the mark of a really good author.