Friday, June 10, 2016

The Reivers, by William Faulkner

When I picked up The Reivers, William Faulkner's final novel, published in 1962, I had a couple of questions.  First of all, what is a reiver?  Second, why have I never heard of this novel?  The first question is easy.  A reiver is one who takes away by violence or stealth, snatches away, or robs.  The second question, well, that's probably easy, too.  It's because I'm ignorant.  The Reivers won a Pulitzer Prize, after all.  But I now realize I just haven't read much of Faulkner.  As I peruse a list of his novels, I'm not sure I've read any of them.  My bad.

The Reivers is not one Faulkner's better-known books, and people who know Faulkner say it's not one of his best.  But it's a fun story.  When 11-year-old Lucius's family leaves town for a funeral, the so-called responsible adult left to care for him takes him along on a trip to Memphis is Lucius's grandfather's car--certainly without Grandfather's permission!  (One might say they reived the car.) Their black employee comes along for the ride and they have quite the adventure in the city.

It's a coming-of-age tale for Lucius, who learns all about bordellos, knife fights, car theft, horse racing, gambling, and more very enlightening parts of life.  Faulkner tells the story from Lucius's point of view, keeping his innocent prospective on these very grown-up pursuits.  In the end, he was a little surprised that back home, nothing had changed.  He thought :
It should have been altered, even if only a little. . . . I mean, if those four days--the lying and deceiving and tricking and decisions and indecisions, and the things I had done and seen and heard and learned that Mother and Father wouldn't have let me do and see and hear and learn--the things I had had to learn that I wasn't even ready for yet, had nowhere to store them nor even anywhere to lay them down; if all that had changed nothing, was the same as if it had never been--never smaller or larger or older or wiser or spend for nothing; either it was wrong and false to begin with and should never have existed, or I was wrong or false or weak or anyway not worthy of it.
The fleeting innocence of youth.  The mystery of fitting worldly wisdom into what we thought we knew as children.

Faulkner's story-telling style is enjoyable, capturing the early-twentieth century south and the voice of the young protagonist.  In a sense the novel felt like a long run-on sentence (and the excerpt above might demonstrate).  One stylistic characteristic that I got a kick out of, which I wonder if it is characteristic of Faulkner's other fiction, is what I will call "amplification."  Have you ever read The Amplified Bible?  They add lots of alternative words to "amplify" the translation, e.g. "In the beginning God (prepared, formed, fashioned,) and created the heavens and the earth. . . . And God saw the light, that it was good--suitable, pleasing--and He approved it."  Faulkner does this a lot in the The Reivers: ". . . with Boon beside me, over me, across me, one hand on mine. . ."  ". . . we were reaching, approaching the other side of the swamp. . . " "Because you should be prepared for experience, knowledge, knowing: not bludgeoned unaware in the dark. . ."   Examples abound in every chapter.

I'm no one to judge where The Reivers ranks among Faulkner's work.  It may not be his best-known novel, but it's certainly worth reading, thoroughly entertaining and thoughtful.

2016 Reading Challenge: A novel that won the Pulitzer Prize

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