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The Reivers - William Faulkner “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.”

Lucius Priest is almost proud of his innocence, an innocence that is easy to maintain as long as he stays in Yoknapatawpha County Mississippi, but when two family retainers by the name of Boon Hogganbeck and Ned McCaslin decide to go on an adventure and convince him to be a part of their ludicrous scheme his veil of innocence, in short order, is in tatters.

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Winton Flyer detail

It all starts with the death of one grandfather which puts most of the family on a train to attend the funeral including the other grandfather who happens to own the conveyance that provides the impetus for four days of mayhem. This automobile which was bought only because grandfather or Boss as he is called by employees and family alike decided he needed to own one. It is a Winton Flyer and in 1905 automobiles in this section of Mississippi or Missippi, as the characters of this novel refer to their fair state, are rare. Even a short ride in a car provides much excitement, enjoyment, and fear. A word of caution if you are riding in the rear watch yourself when the Boss turns his head to relieve himself of some juicy brown tobacco spit.

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Steve McQueen plays Boon Hogganbeck in the 1969 movie.

Of the three Amigos that get involved in this hair brained idea Lucius is by far the youngest, but miles ahead of the other two in intelligence. After they steal the car and head for Memphis he has many moments of doubt in which he wished he were older and better able to handle the responsibility of being...well...bad.

”I realised this too now all my life that who dealt with Boon dealt with a child and had not merely to cope with but even anticipate its unpredictable vagaries; not the folly of Boon’s lack of the simplest rudiments of common sense, but the shame of my failure to anticipate, assume he would lack them, saying, crying to Whoever it is you indict in such crises Don’t You realise I aint but eleven years old? How do You expect me to do all this at just eleven years old? Dont you see you are putting on me more than I can handle?

Before this adventure even leaves town I’m already thinking that Lucius better stress the fact that he is only eleven when The Boss catches up with this madcap trio.

Roads aren’t made for automobiles yet and before they’ve gotten very far they find themselves bogged down in a mud hole. Now amongst the people they know when you get in trouble, like say getting stuck in a mud hole, your neighbors offer a helping hand. The farmer that stakes out this mud hole in the road with a pair of mules is more of an entrepreneur. He extracts six hard earned dollars from Boon before he will put his mules to work getting them sucked back up onto dry land. Lucius learns a first lesson about how the world works outside his home county.

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And they are off!

BONUS This book is laden with fascinating historical facts about how to care and keep an automobile in 1905.

After many trials and tribulations of which even Don Quixote would have decided to turn around and go back home to his books of chivalry and romance, they arrive in Memphis. They are staying at a boarding house of a lady friend of Boon and there is something really different about this place that leaves Lucius a bit confused and on the verge of even more revelations.

”It was like any other hall, with a stairway going up, only at once I smelled something; the whole house smelled that way. I had never smelled it before. I didn’t dislike it; I was just surprised. I mean, as soon as I smelled it, it was like a smell I had been waiting all my life to smell.”

I’m embarrassed to say that I’ve never been in a bawdy house, a whore house, on a bunny ranch or even in the flophouse of a lady of the evening so at 45 ...damn... I mean 46. Lucius Priest is way ahead of me at the age of 11. He’s not all that happy about it.

”I wanted my mother. Because you should be prepared for experience, knowledge, knowing: not bludgeoned unaware in the dark as by a highwayman or footpad. I was just eleven, remember. There are things, circumstances, conditions in the world which should not be there but are, and you cant escape them and indeed, you wouldnt try to escape them even if you had the choice, since they too are a part of Motion, of participating in life, being alive. But they should arrive with grace, decency. I was having to learn too much too fast, unassisted; I had nowhere to put it, no receptacle, pigeonhole prepared yet to accept it without pain and lacerations.”

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Rupert Crosse won an Oscar for his portrayal of Ned McCaslin.

Now Ned trades the Winton Flyer for a horse named Coppermine and the whole rest of the novel is spent with trying to undo what even the two less intelligent members of the group realize is a situation that might lead to more trouble than they can handle. There are horse races, sardine doping, pugnuckling, a knife fight, brawls with sheriffs, whores reforming at inopportune moments, rail hopping, gold tooth theft, and in the midst of it all is Lucius Priest watching his innocence soar away into a blue sky never to be seen again. He is a man in all but size by the end of this novel.

Because this book is written in a straightforward manner with none of the experimental writing that adds “weight” to his other novels critics have said and will continue to say that this is a lesser novel. I have read in the last year two other Faulkner novels: Absalom! Absalom! and The Hamlet, and all three novels have provided me with very different styles of writing that shows me the breadth and genius of a writer capable of writing any kind of novel he would choose to lend his mind to.

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William Faulkner

He won the Pulitzer for this novel and the novel The Fable. For me Absalom! Absalom! is a six star book, but because we have a smaller scale to work with I had to settle for giving it a mere five stars. Thus the other two Faulkner’s had to settle for four stars. You may say to yourself is it fair that Faulkner has to compete with himself? Who else is he supposed to compete with? He is a man standing alone on a craggy peak in a universe of his own making and other writers have tried and are still trying to make there way to the summit.