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The Reivers Paperback – September 1, 1992
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The Valley (The Valley Trilogy)
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The experience of reading this book is like sitting on your grandfather's knee listening to him describe his youth. Sit back, take a deep breath, relax, and settle in for a most entertaining story that should not be hurried.
The book's title is filled with irony. Although ostensibly looking at the temptations that cause people to steal, underlying that surface message is a more subtle one of how people in power use that power to steal dignity and opportunity from others. Before the story ends, everyone in the book is a reiver (an older term for thief) of something or of human dignity.
The book opens with Boon Hogganback losing his temper and trying to shoot a man who insulted him. Fortunately, Boon is a bad shot. That's also the bad news because he wounds a young black girl and shoots out a store window. It will take him a long time to pay the damages.
The story then shifts to Boon's equally impulsive infatuation with the automobile that the narrator's grandfather has purchased, but doesn't intend to drive. Boon craftily overcomes grandfather's reluctance, and the family is soon riding with Boon as the driver.
When the narrator's other grandfather dies, the family leaves town by train for the funeral leaving Boon with an automobile. Boon and Lucius Priest (our 11 year-old narrator) find themselves unable to resist the temptation to "borrow" the car for four days and head to Memphis for 80 miles over unpaved roads. After many adventures (like getting across streams without bridges), they arrive in Memphis. Lucius notices that there is something strange about the boarding house that they are visiting. It turns out to be a house of ill fame, and just as soon as they settle in the car disappears!
The story will remind you of Huckleberry Finn. Boon is a Tom Sawyer-like character, and Ned McCaslin (his grandfather's black handyman) is like Jim. The trip to and from Memphis is like Huck's trip down the Mississippi. The plot is filled with humor, and soon revolves around the most complicated scheme imaginable for getting the car back.
The book also has many elements of Don Quixote with Lucius, Ned, and Boon taking turns playing that role. Despite their lies, misappropriations, and misbehavior, they are constantly trying to do the right thing. One of the most beautiful moments is Lucius speaking up for the honor of Boon's lady friend who works in the "boarding house." This spontaneous and generous act sets off a series of responses by the other characters that redeem and uplift them.
If you have tried to read other Faulkner stories, you will find this one much more accessible. On the other hand, it moves in deliberate, convoluted ways that require your attention and patience. You will be rewarded, however, because each tiny element is important to the overall picture being portrayed and story being developed.
For those who like excitement, you should know that a major part of the story revolves around a series of horse races with serious bets involved. As soon as you get closer to the horse races, you will find yourself totally engrossed in the story and wondering how it will all turn out. The suspense is excellent, and you will probably be surprised in many pleasant ways by the story's resolution.
After you read this book, you should think about how one should handle the clash between society's expectations and rules, and the needs of those in trouble. How should the gap be covered?
Let temptation make you stronger and more virtuous in the ways that count!
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