Set in Faulkner's fictional Yoknapatawpha County in the early 1900s, THE REIVERS tells the story of a young, wealthy Southern boy who, during a simple ride to Memphis in his grandfather's "borrowed" car, gets caught up in a series of escalating schemes and vices that expose the harsh realities of a world the boy has long been shielded from. Eleven year old Lucius Priest is obsessed with his grandfather's car. It is the first and only car in the entirety of Mississippi's Yoknapatawpha County. When all his older family members depart for an out-of-state funeral, leaving him the care of a family friend and retainer named Boon Hogganbeck, Lucius sees his chance. But Lucius isn't the only one who has been waiting for just such an opportunity. Boon himself has plans for that car. He convinces Lucius to steal ("reive") the car and join him on a short and simple trip to Memphis, where Boon intends to finally win over Miss Corrie, a part-time prostitute Boon has long been enamored with.
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The trip starts out uneventful enough, but soon they realize they are not alone: Ned McCaslin, a distant black cousin of the white Priests, has been hiding in the back of the car the whole time. Ned convinces them he's just along for the ride, but he has plans of his own. When they arrive in Memphis, Ned heads off into the town's black neighborhoods, where Lucius wouldn't dream of following. Instead, and rather ironically, Lucius stays at Miss Corrie's brothel with Boon.
There, Lucius is blown away by everything he sees. His sheltered upbringing did not prepare him for handling the coarse and strangely confident prostitutes, especially Miss Corrie, or for Miss Corrie's nephew, Otis, who immediately proves himself to be everything the gentlemanly Lucius is not. Despite being only a few years older than Lucius, Otis is no passive observer of all this vice around him, but an active participant, ready to corrupt or be corrupted at will.
Meanwhile, Ned has returned from the black sector with a fine and expensive racehorse. Lucius learns, to his horror, that Ned has traded the car for the horse. In order to make some money, and hopefully buy the car back, Lucius steps in as jockey as Ned enters them in various illegal races around town. The horse is plenty fast, but has an ingrained fear of running ahead of the other horses. It's only when Lucius tempts him with a sardine as they race that he loses his fear, focuses on the treat, and finally wins big.
The climax revolves around two elements:
In the one, Lucius has finally had enough of Miss Corrie's nephew, and when he insults Miss Corrie herself as a worthless whore, Lucius steps up to fight for her honor. The fight ends badly, but Miss Corrie, so moved by this grand gesture, decides to give up her life as a prostitute, and she agrees to marry Boon.
In the other, Lucius's grandfather arrives and demands an explanation. Ned explains that he was forced into the horse-for-car debacle in order to help a relative who has drowning in debt. Despite being relatives themselves, the white grandfather has always treated the black Ned has more employee than family. But he saw the horse's previous win; he knows it's fast and demands that another race be held. This time, Ned doesn't do the sardine trick, and they. Only after does it come out that Ned bet against the horse, winning a massive payday over the neglectful and overbearing white patriarch. The Priests return to Yoknapatawpha County, and Lucius, to his delight, learns that Boon and Miss Corrie have had their first child – and they named it Lucius.
Best part of story, including ending:
I'm torn on this one. I really enjoyed the usual Faulknerian lush prose and well-honed insights into Southern society, but overall the fairly sparse narrative made it feel a little like one of his short stories stretched to several hundred pages.
Best scene in story:
Lucius's first encounters at the brothel are priceless. This sheltered, good-natured kid had his mind blown.
Opinion about the main character:
Faulkner, along with Dickens and Twain and a small number of other greats, is uniquely masterful with child protagonists, and Lucius is one of his best -- plausible in his innocence, yet also curious enough to keep the plot marching onward without ever growing too precious to where we, as adults, lose the ability to share in his experience.
Eleven-year-old Lucius Priest takes off on a road trip to Memphis with two men who work for his father, precisely the kind of men his father would warn him to stay away from. His companions having no concept of shielding children from the harsh realities of the struggling poor or the vices grown men engage in against the orders of the fundamentalist church, Lucius learns a lot on the road. Serious issues about conflicts in society -- class, race, religion, and modernization -- are balanced with outright funny characters and situations.
The review of this Book prepared by Jessica Marler