Book Review: The Reivers by William Faulkner
I told some folks recently I was reading William Faulkner’s last novel (his 1963 posthumous Pulitzer win), The Reivers. I explained to them what a reiver (ree’-ver) was (basically, a 16th century Anglo-Scot robber-baron) and that Faulkner’s novel was set in turn-of-the-20th-century Mississippi/Tennessee. They asked how then the novel could be called The Reivers. At the time I didn’t have an answer, but now I think I do. It’s a metaphor! Of course, as my last post declared, this is mostly supposition. And yet, the characters in this novel do have a lot in common (metaphorically) with the historical reivers of the British Isles. Simply put, both groups spent a lot of time running around stealing from each other and inspiring each other to new heights of thievery. I’m not sure what the socio-economic, geopolitical moral is for the historical reivers, but for Faulkner’s novel the moral seems to be, “This is life!”; that whether or not we are literally “stealing” from each other, we are all in some way impinging upon others (no matter our nobility of intentions) and removing resources from off of others’ tables to supply our own. The most difficult part of all this is for us to learn to live with this fact, to reconcile our ‘nobility’ and high-falutin’ notions about ourselves with the simple brass tacks of our thefts, self-centeredness, and general pillaging of the individuals and cultures alike that surround us. Put in those terms, I have to say, Faulkner’s novel is rather brilliant, providing food for thought, unexpected twists, and some very welcome, gleeful, and giggle-worthy episodes of naughtiness.
As for the critics, they didn’t care much about Faulkner’s later novels like The Reivers and A Fable, even though The Reivers continues the mythology of Faulkner’s famous and “apocryphal” Yoknapatawpha County, Mississippi, the setting for nearly all of his novels. Critics pay more attention to Faulkner’s earlier novels (for which he was made a Nobel Laureate in 1952), but having read As I Lay Dying, I can assure you, the critics are wrong. The later novels, which get so ignored critically, have, for me, managed quite well to disperse the dark cloud of stream-of-consciousness tom-foolery As I Lay Dying left me under. I’m just glad the Pulitzers support me in my opinion of these later novels’ worthiness, and agree that The Reivers easily “steals” the show from As I Lay Dying. But wait, now I’m putting words in other people’s mouths. We may all be reivers to some extent but that’s a level of reiver-ness I shall seek to avoid no matter how much it would serve my ego in the short term. Perhaps the title of this post should now be, “The critics could be, some say, less than correct!”