Monday, January 4, 2016
Pulitzer Project: The Reivers, a Reminiscence
Like most of Faulkner's work, The Reivers, a Reminiscence is set in Yoknapatawpha County, a mythical place in Mississippi. Faulkner references characters introduced in his other works also set in Yoknapatawpha County, like Colonel Sutpen (Absalom, Absalom) and Miss Reba (Sanctuary). The story is told in the form an old man recalling a youthful misadventure that happened when he was eleven years old. The year was 1905 when Lucius found himself helping one of his father's employee's steal his grandfather's car for a road trip to Memphis that quickly evolved to include his first visit to a whorehouse, a stolen horse, and lessons in how to fix a horse race.
Lucius's parents and grandparents have had to go out of town to attend a funeral in Bay St. Louis, which is at the other end of the state from Yoknapatawpha County, and Lucius and his younger siblings are supposed to stay with a relative who has a farm a few miles out of town. That doesn't happen. Without even talking about it, Lucius finds himself collaborating with Boon Hoggenbeck, a fellow who is technically an adult but seems to have gotten stuck mentally at about ten years old. Boon works at Lucius's father's livery stable as a driver and stable hand, but his true passion is automobiles. He fell in love with the first car he saw. When Lucius' grandfather, a local banker, buys the second automobile to be seen in their town, Boon becomes the chauffeur. Boon loves the car; if it were up to him, it would be in constant motion instead of spending most of its time in a locked carriage house. When he realizes that the car's owner won't be around for at least a week -- the funeral may have been in Bay St. Louis, but Boon knows that Lucius's grandfather will not be able to resist spending a few days in New Orleans before coming home -- he immediately plans to borrow the vehicle for a quick trip to Memphis.
Of course, there's no such thing as a quick trip anywhere in an automobile in Mississippi in 1905. Standard equipment in any car at the time included a couple of shovels, a block and tackle, and cable. It was more or less guaranteed that once you got out of town, you would end up in a mudhole. Memphis might have been a mere 80 miles away, only a little over an hour by train, but it was a two-day trip in a car. Still, they do eventually get to Memphis, having discovered along the way that another Priest family employee, Ned, had managed to stowaway in the back seat. They're happy to have Ned along when they hit some rough spots along the road; they're a little less thrilled when Ned trades the car for a race horse. That's when things start to get a little complicated, at least for Boon and Lucius.
From the reader's perspective, however, it's all pure fun. Boon, Lucius, and Ned are in constant motion, snatching a few minutes sleep here and there as they try to figure out how to get the horse to where it will do a match race with another horse -- a horse that has already beaten this particular horse multiple times so why Ned seems to think that a rematch is a good idea is a mystery, but Boon and Lucius don't have much choice but to go along with Ned's scheme if they want to get the car back and get home before anyone realizes they were gone. Boon's quick temper lands him in trouble with local law enforcement, Ned's attempts to fix the horse race have interesting results, and Lucius, to the surprise of everyone involved, manages to persuade a Memphis whore to stop whoring. Unfortunately, his good influence happens at just the wrong time. Right when they would all benefit from the use of some feminine wiles, the whore decides to get out of the business.
This is, in short, a comic novel. It is really funny. It has the usual Faulkner style -- the run-on sentences, the descriptions that go in circles and turn back on themselves, the hints at Southern weirdness and eccentricity -- but it's also laugh out loud funny. It was made into a film, The Reivers, starring Steve McQueen that was released in 1969. I'd like to see it.
The Reivers was made into a film starring Steve McQueen as Boon. The movie was released in 1969, and I have a vague memory of hearing about it but never saw it. As soon as I finished the book, I checked online to see if I could find someplace. Amazon has it for sale, but only as DVDs or VHS, no streaming version. Netflix doesn't list it; neither does Hulu. It's possible it's hiding out there somewhere, but I haven't found it yet. There are clips, but no full-length film.
As for the book itself and the usual question -- would I recommend it to other readers? Yes. Because it's Faulkner, some people may find it awkward (all those run-on sentences, for example) but overall it's definitely up on the high end of the scale for a Pulitzer winner. Not quite a 10, but close to it.
Next up, another obscure one: The Keepers of the House by Shirley Ann Grau. It could be a little trickier to get than usual because according to the online catalog only three libraries in the consortium have it, and not all libraries are particularly eager to send books out on Interlibrary Loan. They're like people: happy to borrow but not too keen on lending.