The Reivers is apparently a grandfather recounting a story of his childhood in the turn of the twentieth century, when automobiles were still a rarity. His grandfather, a banker in a small town in Mississippi, bought an automobile to spite his rival banker, but left the driving to a good-for-nothing man (Boon) who had never really grown up emotionally and who had been effectively adopted by three families in the area for his own well-being. The beginning narration describes the town and the how automobiles were viewed: contempt by those good with horses, trepidation by the women, curiosity by the town electrical engineer, and rapt love by Boon.1  Relatives of the narrator Lucius die and so his parents and grandparents leave to pay their respects. As it is a four day trip, both Lucius and Boon get the idea to abscond with the automobile to Memphis.

This is not accomplished without some discussion of the conflict within Lucius, who, hitherto had been a slave to Virtue. However, despite the fact that he knew he should not choose non-Virtue, nonetheless he consciously chooses it, rejecting several opportunities where he knew he could go back to Virtue. The rest of the story is, in some sense, how the consequences of that choice expand and overwhelm him, leaving him regretting his choice but having no way, in himself, to return to Virtue or even escape the circumstances non-Virtue dragged him into.

The trip to Memphis is fairly uneventful, although we, the modern readers, learn that early roads were so bumpy and potholy that cars would get stuck with on the frame with all their wheels off the ground, requiring some leverage to get it back. Sometimes, in fact, a block and tackle would be required for pulling the car out of the mud. Or worse, to have the road converted to some farmer’s private mudhole, from which the car could only be extracted with exorbitant effort, or the aid of a pair of oxen at the exorbitant price of $2 (1905 dollars) per person. The mudhole passed, and the stowaway, grandfather’s (Negro—this is the Old South) servant Ned, discovered, the three finally reach Memphis. Boon, white trash though he is, informs Ned that he is to be back at the car at precisely 8 am or he will not have a ride home. Boon and the eleven-year old Lucius then spend the early evening in a whorehouse of Boon’s acquaintance.

We learn that whorehouses of 1905 make a pretense at decorum, even going so far as to provide a meal for some of the guests. Yet, it is not an easy life, either. The owner appears to be Miss Reba, but her lover Mr. Binford seems to rule the place. That is, when he does not lose an excessive $40 of Miss Reba’s money on horse racing and feel guilty about staying there. Boon appears to have some relationship with Miss Corrie above a mere client, and Miss Corrie has a nephew that is pure greed. Not only that, but after nightfall Ned shows up at the window with a horse, apparently stolen, which he swapped for the automobile.

Ned, who was famed for being able to get a mule to reliably win races (sometimes simply by getting him in the right direction, which is apparently something mules are unlikely to choose of their own free will), says that he can get this horse to run, despite its track record of running fast enough to be second place. The thirst for the money that Mr. Binford lost Miss Reba and the need to win the automobile back so that Boon and Lucius can put it back in the garage before Grandfather comes back, ensures the cooperation of everyone. Indeed, as Lucius notes, everyone seems interested in helping a prospective racehorse, and one of the company enlists the aid of Sam, the local railroad conductor (who is white), to procure a boxcar to transport the horse to Parsham where a private track is located.

They return to the “house” to sleep. Lucius gets to sleep with Otis in the attic, and Otis displays his pride in designing a mechanism to cover a peephole in Miss Corrie’s previous domicile in order to sell views of her activities with customers to the neighborhood children. Lucius, raised as a gentleman, is outraged at his treatment of Miss Corrie, and starts beating him up. Otis pulls a pocketknife on him, which cuts his fingers but he ends up the winner in the battle. Miss Corrie is so moved that someone would actually fight for her, that a mere child valued her more than men did, that she promises Lucius that she will quit the business and find honest work. She also sends Otis back to his home in Tennessee on the first train in the morning. The second train sees the company, sans Miss Reba, at Parsham’s hotel. Here a constable from the Memphis precinct bullies Miss Corrie (he knows who she is) and Boon who would like to stand up for her but cannot, and she ends up trying to seek shelter behind the child Lucius. Miss Reba eventually arrives, but she stands up to the constable and shows him up to be who he is, a bully hiding behind the badge of the law.

Meanwhile, Ned has transported the racehorse, and has Lucius, who is a good rider, ride him around the pasture to see what they can learn about his behavior. The horse runs for a bit, then turns around and races back towards Ned at top speed, but with an application of the whip right before he turns, he can be convinced to run a racetrack. The son of Uncle Parsham (and Negro family that appears to serve the owner of Parsham’s hotel) and Lucius visit the stables of the racetrack and Uncle Parsham’s son says some things that cast doubt in the mind of the jockey who is riding the opposing horse as to Ned’s horse’s lack of ability to run a race. Says Ned, they need the jockey a bit distracted an unnerved.

The whole race is a battle of wits. Ned knows that he can get the horse to win one race, by means of some special something that the horse apparently really really likes. But, can they win two races? (They must win two out of three)  The first race is disqualified because of a false start. The second race is disqualified for another reason, and by the third race Lucius has some idea of what needs to be done, but loses anyway. The other races are postponed until the next day with the arrest of Ned and Boon for horse-theft.

Ned is ultimately released when Miss Corrie (as we find out later) buys the horse, but Boon, who has been seething over the treatment of Miss Corrie (whom he considers as his wife) is released just long enough for him to punch out the constable who was bullying her and him, at which point he is re-arrested. The rest convene at the track again. Lucius has gained some skill in horse racing, and as they round the turn, he positions the horse so that when he whips the opposing horse, the spectators are unable to see just exactly what happened, just that the opposing horse jumps the fence and runs on the other side of the track. Ahead of Ned’s horse, to be sure, but not under the finish line. A row ensues, with Ned claiming victory because his horse was the (only) one who crossed under the finish line first. The race is declared inconclusive, at which point the last race decides the match. Here Ned does his magic and the horse speeds down the homestretch to Ned and to win the race.

At this point Grandfather shows up. He has a meeting with Lucius, Ned, and the owner of Parsham’s, where he (and Lucius) find out all that has been going on. It seems that Ned has a relative who was in debt and who got it into his head that the only way of getting out was stealing this race horse and gambling. Ned noted a similarity between this horse and his mule, namely that they both loved sardines, and figured that he could get the horse to run. Since the horse was known to lose, this would fetch good odds. It is also explained that the automobile really was quite recoverable: since very few people had automobiles, someone trying to quickly unload one with no history was going to be rather difficult.

Grandfather posts bail for Boon, and it transpires that Miss Reba has made quite a sum, that Lucius is entitled to some of it (which he gives to Ned, since he feels that accepting gambling money would be un-Virtuous), that Ned is financially rewarded, and that the automobile is available for travel home. As Boon is the only driver, he drives them home. Boon decides that if eleven-year old Lucius can stand up to a knife for Miss Corrie, he can marry her, and when the time comes, she names their first child Lucius in his honor.

Lucius arrives home to find that nothing has changed. Yet, since he had quickly grown older with the knowledge of theft, gambling, the behind-the-scenes of horse racing, human nature, and the experience of tasting the forbidden fruit, he has changed quite a bit; things cannot simply stay the same. Lucius confesses his sin of lying (which was what enabled him to pull off the automobile theft) to Grandfather and asks Grandfather to do something to fix it. There is no fix, but what fix there is that a gentleman accepts the consequences for his actions, a sort of self-atonement for the sin.

The Reivers is a story about the forbidden fruit and the consequences of non-Virtue. It is engineered to be a story that illustrates what I assume is Faulkner’s view of human nature. Initially we start off following Virtue. Then, somewhere early on we make the conscious choice to follow non-Virtue, rejecting opportunities to rejoin Virtue, until we end up doing worse and worse things. Thus, absconding with Grandfather’s automobile leads to the undeniably real theft of horse-stealing, gambling, and an introduction into the dark side of Men. Perhaps Grandfather can be seen as a savior figure, for just as events escalate beyond Lucius’ control and he is worn out and longs just to escape from it and be back home, Grandfather appears. If Grandfather is a savior, however, he is not one in the Christian vein, for while Jesus came to wipe our sin away through His atonement, Grandfather cannot erase the sin. The whole story can be summed up in this excerpt at the end, with a very tired eleven-year old boy who deeply regrets his actions, confessing to Grandfather:

“I lied,” I said. ...
“I know it,” he said.
“Then do something about it.” ...
“I can’t,” he said.
“There ain’t anything to do? Not anything?”
“I didn’t say that,” Grandfather said. “I said I couldn’t. You can.”
“What?” I said. “How can I forget it? Tell me how to.”
“You can’t,” he said. “Nothing is ever forgotten. Nothing is ever lost. It’s too valuable.”
“Then what can I do?”
“Live with it,” Grandfather said.
“Live with it? You mean forever? For the rest of my life? Not ever to get rid of it? Never? I can’t. Don’t you see that I can’t?”
“Yes you can,” he said. “You will. A gentleman always does. A gentleman can live through anything. He faces anything. A gentleman accepts the responsibility of his actions and bears the burden of their consequences, even when he did not himself instigate them but only acquiesced to them, didn’t say No though he knew he should”

The other prominent theme is about what it means to be a man. A man does not do the first thing that comes into his head like joyriding to Memphis. A man takes responsibility for his actions. A man protects women even at personal cost. Yet the men in the world are often not like this. Boon does not, cannot protect the girl he (apparently) loves. Nor is he willing to take the risk and responsibility of marrying her, just the convenience of hiring her. Ned’s friend, Bobo wants to be responsible and pay his debts, but goes about it in a foolish manner. Ned, is not a whole lot better, although he engineers the theft in order to help his relative. Lucius, the young gentleman, learns to do all of these, even though many of his elders have not.

I found it interesting that Faulkner has Miss Corrie express wonderment over having someone fight for her. With the rise of feminism, American culture says that women can take care of themselves, thankyouverymuch. Yet, if Captivating is to be believed, the essence of a woman is Beauty, and Beauty is by its nature fragile and vulnerable. To be worth fighting for surely must be one of every woman’s desires, even if they do not realize it. And in my experience over this past year (2006), the women that I know who are most womanly are, in some fashion I cannot explain, vulnerable. Definitely not weak, but somehow also vulnerable. To be a man, is in some sense, to recognize that Beauty is worth protecting and to do so. Chivalry ought not be dead.

From the earliest pages this book exudes Literature. The sentences are very complex, so much so that even this reviewer, who enjoys complicated sentences (as any reader can attest) found them complicated. Yet they are well formed and very expressive. The description of people and places is somewhat poetic; it expresses not only what is there, but the soul of what is there. A description more by metaphor. And like all Literature this reviewer has been exposed to, it has a Theme, although it is sometimes a little hidden, almost as if Faulkner wanted the reader to have to hunt for the meaning a little. Events are presented and commentary given as to their meaning, yet one still asks what it means. No answer is given; it can only be deduced. Furthermore, the  main character, Lucius, matures greatly, but gradually and visibly as the book progresses. Even Boon changes, albeit slowly, to accepting responsibility of caring for the woman he loves. Other characters perhaps do not change, but deepen. Ned is shown to be wise with animals and understanding of people—choosing his actions intentionally, with full awareness of the likely consequences. Miss Corrie seems to be revealed as a prostitute who knows nothing better, and who recognizes her opportunity to change.

The Reivers is one of the most complex books this reviewer has read in the past few years. It starts off making you wonder if it really is Literature, and then makes you wish that the setting could be something other than prostitutes and low-lifes. Yet from this emerges characters who, if not always morally straight, are noble. Some, like Miss Corrie, even willingly choose the path of Virtue. As the story progresses the characters deepen, until you run out of book, at which point the book matures and deepens into your mind into a well-woven commentary on human nature.
Review: 9.2
This book has depth. The writing is complex and well-constructed. The descriptions are do not merely describe, but give the flavor of the place. The characters deepen. The commentary is thought-provoking. I could have done with a plot that did not involve prostitutes; I am unconvinced that the same message cannot be told another way. Yet, still, well done. This book strikes me as having been crafted. Not only crafted, but with Quality. I have tried, somewhat unsuccessfully, to impart an idea of what I think a timeless book is in these reviews. Ultimately it comes down to being crafted with quality, and in The Reivers, Faulkner demonstrates a mastery of it. This book will be around in 100 years. The only reason I do not rate it higher is that I think he should have tried harder to find a way to avoid the prostitutes. I am sure there is a better way, and frankly, I just would prefer to read about something else.


Lucius “When grown people speak of the innocence of children, they don’t really know what they mean. ... There is no crime which a boy of eleven had not envisaged long ago. His only innocence is, he may not yet be old enough to desire the fruits of it, which is not innocence but appetite; his ignorance is, he does not know how to commit it, which is not ignorance but size.”

“‘No sir,’ I said. ‘I don’t drink beer.’
‘Why?’ Mr. Binford said. ‘You don’t like it or you can’t get it?’
‘No sir,’ I said, “I’m not old enough yet.’
‘Whiskey, then?’ Mr. Binford said.
‘No sir,’ I said. ‘I don’t drink anything. I promised my mother I wouldn’t unless Father or Boss [Grandfather] invited me.’”

“This time Ned turned completely around. Otis sprang, leaped away, cursing Ned, calling him nigger—something Father and Grandfather must have been teaching me before I could remember because I don’t know when it began, I just knew it was so: that no gentleman ever referred to anyone by his race or religion.

Boon “Boon was a corporation, a holding company in which the three of us [families]—McCaslins, De Spain, and General Compson—had mutually equal but completely undefined shares of responsibility, the one and only corporation rule being that whoever was nearest at the crises would leap immediately into whatever breach Boon had this time created or simply fallen heir to; he (Boon) was a mutual benevolent protective benefit association, of which the benefits were all Boon’s and the mutuality and the benevolence and the protecting all ours.”

“Then Grandfather bought that automobile and Boon found his soul’s mate.”

“‘What I aimed to break his [Butch’s] neck for was for calling my wife a whore.’
‘You mean you’re going to marry her?’ Grandfather said. But it was not Grandfather: it was me that Boon pounced, almost jumped at.
‘God damn it,’ he said, ‘if you can go bare-handed against a knife defending her, why the hell can’t I marry her? Ain’t I as good as you are, even if I ain’t eleven years old?”

Ned “Just think about what Lightning taught you yesterday about riding him.”

“You mind I told you this morning how the trouble with this race was, it had too many different things all mixed up in it? Well, this ain’t our track and country, and it ain’t even our horse except just in a borried manner of speaking, so we can’t take none of them extra things out. So the next best we can do is, to put a few extry ones into it on our own account.”

“Now we’ve put something else in his [the jockey of the competing horse] mind: he’s got two things in it now that don’t quite fit one another. So we’ll just wait and see.”

“When I sugars up a woman, it ain’t just empty talk. They can buy something with it, too’

“‘You can’t know,’ Ned said. ‘You’re the wrong color. If you could just be a nigger one Saturday night, you wouldn’t never want to be a white man again as long as you live.’”

Miss Corrie “You fought over me. I’ve had people—drunks—fighting over me, but you’re the first one ever fought for me. I ain’t used to it, you see. Except one thing. I can do that. I want to make you a promise. Back in Arkansas it was my fault. It won’t be my fault any more.”

Miss Reba “By the time you’ve known Miss Reba a few hours longer, you’ll find out you done learned something else about ladies too: that when she suggests you to do something, it’s a good idea to do it while you’re still deciding whether you’re going to or not.”

Butch Constable from a neighboring region. Arrogant, bullies anyone he has a hold over with sarcastic, mirthless humor. Described as a bully who used the badge of the Law as an excuse to keep a pistol

Otis “‘Jack,’ Otis said. ‘Spondulicks. Cash. When I think about all that time I wasted in Arkansas before anybody told me about Memphis. That [prominent gold] tooth [in the mouth of one of Miss Reba’s girls]. How much do you reckon that tooth by itself is worth?’ ...
‘Yes,’ Ned said. ‘I mind a boy like you back there in Jefferson used to keep his mind on money all the time, too. You know where he’s at now?’
‘Here in Memphis, if he’s got any sense,’ Otis said.
‘He never got that far,’ Ned said. ‘The most he could get was into the state penitentiary at Parchman. And at the rate you sounds like going, that’s where you’ll wind up too.’”

[Miss Reba talking]  “Mr. Binford likes kids. He still likes them even after he begins to have doubts, and this last week would have raised doubts in anybody that ain’t a ossified corpse. ... If Otis is still using up doubts at the same rate he was before they left here, he ain’t coming back—providing there’s some way to get him up close enough to the cage for one of them lions or tigers to reach him—providing a lion or tiger would want him, which they wouldn’t if they’d ever spent a week in the same house with him.”

Mr. Binford “That’s what I meant about Mr Binford: he was already looking at me before I knew it.”

“‘Like hell,’ Miss Reba said. ‘I can throw you out too. Don’t think I won’t. What the hell kind of language is that?’ ...
‘I said, that’ll do,’ Mr. Binford said. ‘One of them [Otis] can’t get beer and the other [Lucius] don’t drink it so maybe they both just come here for refinement and education. Call it they just got some. They just learned that whore and son of a bitch are both words to think twice before pulling the trigger on because both of them can backfire.’”

Sam “‘Sam Caldwell,’ Ned said. ‘It strikes me that Sam Caldwell is a better name for this kind of horse business than twice some others a man could mention around here. A little more, and I could be wishing me and you was frequent enough to be permanent. Kindly obliged.’”

(Ned’s relative)
“Everybody got kinfolks that ain’t got no more sense than Bobo,” Ned said.

1  Boon’s love of automobiles is reminiscent of Toad’s addictive and reckless love for them in The Wind in the Willows. Poop, poop. Poop, poop!