The Reivers, William Faulkner, Random House, 1962, 305 pp
Summary from Goodreads: One of Faulkner's comic masterpieces, The Reivers is a picaresque that tells of three unlikely car thieves from rural Mississippi. Eleven-year-old Lucius Priest is persuaded by Boon Hogganbeck, one of his family's retainers, to steal his grandfather's car and make a trip to Memphis. The Priests' black coachman, Ned McCaslin, stows away, and the three of them are off on a heroic odyssey, for which they are all ill-equipped, that ends at Miss Reba's bordello in Memphis. From there a series of wild misadventures ensues--invoving horse smuggling, trainmen, sheriffs' deputies, and jail.
(Note: I have been making my way through the 1962 list of My Big Fat Reading Project for too long. At the beginning of the year, I committed myself to reading at least one a week from the list. So I hope my readers here are not bored by so many old books. Some of them are still worth reading if you never have read them before.)
The Reivers was the #10 bestseller in 1962 and Faulkner's final novel. In fact, he died that year.
I wasn't too excited about reading it. I have read most of his novels over the years. Some I have loved, some I barely understood, some bored me. I felt I was done with Faulkner and went into the book with the feeling of completing an assignment. As it turned out, The Reivers was, for me, one of the best!
It is set in Faulkner's imaginary county, Yoknapatawpha. The grandfather of one of the families tells his grandson a story from 40 years ago. Many of the Yoknapatawpha characters come into the story and I realized I almost know that place as though I'd lived there because of all the novels and because of how deeply I had become invested in those people.
The time period of the grandfather's story is just a bit post WWI, when he was a lad of eleven. The automobile has made its way into the area as well as other modern developments, all viewed with suspicion. But Lucius Priest's grandfather, one of the bankers of the town, has acquired a car. He mostly keeps it locked up in his garage. Lucius's tale from his younger years turns out to be the ultimate road trip/coming of age tale, the trip being taken in that car.
Being Faulkner, it is also an account of the ambiguities of good and evil along with yet another rendition of the intricate balance between whites and blacks in the South before Civil Rights changed things.
I guess it helped that I had read all those earlier novels but I found this one the most readable of all.
Favorite quote from page 52 of the 1962 first printing (yes, my library still has a first printing edition):
"So you see what I mean about virtue? You have heard--or anyway you will--people talk about evil times or an evil generation. There are no such things. No epic of history nor generation of human beings either ever was or will be big enough to hold the un-virtue of any given moment; all they can do is hope to be as little soiled as possible during the passage through it. Because what pity that Virtue does not--possibly cannot--take care of it own as Non-virtue does."
I found this to be a sobering and truthful statement about our own times. That is how he leaves us. And so, 54 years later, I bid adieu to the great William Faulkner.