Book review: ‘The Reivers’ by William Faulkner

By LARRY BALLWAHN | Wilton

Being between library books, I scanned my bookshelf. There was a copy of “The Reivers” that I had bought for 95 cents while in college. Being an English major, seeing the name William Faulkner, and maybe a review, I no doubt had good intentions. But it had obviously never been read and the glue was even good in the binding. Better late than never.

A minimum of research established that “The Reivers” was Faulkner’s last novel and that it had won a Pulitzer prize in 1963. The story is set in 1905 in Mississippi and Tennessee. The narrator, Lucius Priest, describes his experiences the year he was 11: it was a taste of life seldom had by someone so young and actually experienced by a relative few.

The automobile has just made its appearance; it’s not even in competition with the family’s livery business yet. But as president of one of the banks in town, Grandfather had to buy one to keep up appearances. That didn’t mean he intended to drive it, or have it driven. It could sit in the garage as long as people were aware that he had one. Enter Boon Hogganbeck.

Boon was “ … tough, faithful and completely unreliable … he had the mentality of a child … although he was obviously a perfectly normal flesh-and-blood result …. ” When Grandfather bought the automobile, Boon had found his “soulmate.” Boon became completely enamored with the car, so much so that he spent all of his free time washing it and coming up with reasons to drive it; e.g., giving all of the relatives and livery customers rides. And when the Priest adults had to go to St. Louis for a funeral, it didn’t take Boon long to come up with a reason to drive.

The Priests were to be gone at least four days, time enough to take the car to Memphis and visit a friend in a brothel there. And if he took 11-year-old Lucius, he wasn’t technically not stealing the family car. The plan quickly becomes a little more complicated when Ned, a black employee of the livery stable, invites himself on the adventure by hiding in the back seat.

As you can imagine, there is much that can go wrong with a plan that includes taking an 11-year-old to a brothel and having an unexpected participant. For one thing, you may need a horse race to try and win Grandfather’s car back. Instead of describing the events, I’ll share quotes that may provide some insight.

“Don’t it beat all, how much a fellow can learn, and in such a short time, about something he never knowed before, he had no idea he would ever want to know it, let alone find it useful for the rest of his life….”

“Already a Republican, I don’t mean a 1905 Republican … I mean a 1960 Republican. He was more: he was a Conservative. Like this, a Republican is a man who made his money; a Liberal is a man who inherited his, a Democrat is a barefooted Liberal in a cross-country race; a Conservative is a Republican who has learned to read and write.” Remember, I’m just quoting William Faulkner’s narrator, published in 1962.

Regarding animal intelligence: “The rat, of course, I rate first. He lives in your house without helping you buy it or build it or repair it or keep the taxes paid; he eats what you eat without helping you raise it or buy it or even haul it into your house; you cannot get rid of him; were he not a cannibal, he would long since have inherited the earth.”

Steve McQueen starred in the movie, and the DVD from the public library made for an entertaining evening.

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