Wednesday, August 20, 2008

By The Old Mississippi Reiver...

The Reivers

Faulkner is one of those novelists who has such an intimidating reputation, many readers never get around to giving him a try, and don't know where to begin. In my high school english class, Mr. Fields introduced us to him through Sanctuary. Some readers plunge right into his more famous, dark, impenetrable novels and never find their way out.

In Faulkner's last novel, I think we find a good introduction. Published a month before his death in 1962, it took a Pulitzer the following year, and yet it is not one of his better known works. The prose has his complexity and richness, but the mood is nostalgic and wistful, a coming-of-age novel written by an old man at the end of a long, distinguished body of work.

The basic plot is farcical. Two young men 'borrow' an automobile, back when automobiles were rare, and take a jaunt to Memphis, Tennessee. ("Reivers" is an archaic term for thieves.) It turns out they have a stowaway, and there is even more trouble in store for them when the car gets traded for a racing horse, and the game is on to win a horse race with an unlikely horse and get the car back.

Yet the novel also achieves a vivid landscape of the rural south and a cast of wonderful, complex characters. The relationships between black- and white-skinned characters here is also remarkable.

It is a thoroughly enjoyable read and might be the best introduction Faulkner's style.

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