When I began this project with Soldier’s Pay I knew little about The Reivers, except that it was Faulkner’s last novel and that it’s not highly regarded. That’s it. I’ve reached the last book. Twenty novels. I read them all.
I had decided to read all of Faulkner’s novels in hopes that something in the creative process would reveal itself. It was heartening to see that everyone starts somewhere and a pleasure to see that indeed, Faulkner improved. It’s fair to say that Faulkner is highly regarded and is frequently referred to as one of the best writers in the English language.
I knew there were highs and lows, of course. The Reivers was not his best work, but I enjoyed it. It’s told straightforwardly, and I would certainly qualify it as one of his ‘easiest’ novels.
Lucius Priest—a young, sheltered, wealthy boy accompanies Boon Hogganbeck to Memphis. To get there, Boon steals Lucious’ grandfather’s car. On the way, they find that Ned, a black man who works with Boon on the farm, has sneaked along.
Boon is wanting to get to Memphis to meet a prostitute he wants to woo. While they stay at a Memphis brothel, Ned disappears to the “black part of town.” Ned trades the car for a horse with a plan to race the horse and win enough money to buy back the car and a bit more to help some of his kin.
I could elaborate on much more of the plot, but the point is that Lucius comes of age as he tries to reconcile the world he grew up in with how the wider world actually is. The story has an uncharacteristically upbeat ending for a Faulkner novel, with Boon marrying the woman, Lucius learning a bit about life, and Ned outsmarting them all.
It’s an odd one to end with. I suppose everyone wants their last effort to be their best, but there are few artists who can achieve that. However much I enjoyed reading this book, I doubt this would be the book Faulkner would choose to have signed out on.
Looking back on all the books I’ve read on this project, I can say undoubtedly that reading them all was worth it.
When I began this project, I wondered if I would be able to piece together the process by which Faulkner built up such a rich world. Would consuming them in the order he wrote them, reveal anything new? When I began this project, I wondered if there would be a little light shed on how such a rich story developed. I wondered if Yoknapatawpha County would seem to emerge fully-formed, or if it would seem a little immature at first, developing over time. I wondered where the highs and lows in such a long career would be–would it peak, never to again reach the same height? or would the quality wax and wane over time?
I’ve now completed the project and I feel now that even if I don’t have those answers assuredly, I at least am a bit closer to understanding a career’s worth of creative work.