Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Pale Horse, Pale Rider

Perhaps reading this book was one of the sources of inspiration for my last post about not always needing book summaries. Here is how it went.

While I like going to antique stores, my space for things right now is, well, small. So when I'm at antique stores, I generally try to keep myself to books and jewelry, which tend to take up less space. And so I have discovered that you can sometimes get some pretty good book finds at antique stores, either new/newish books for low prices or out-of-print or otherwise less-circulated books that you might not bump into in other places.

While glancing at book spines one day, I saw a Modern Library spine. Modern Library, as you probably know, publishes books with more of a literary angle--so while I'd never heard of Katherine Anne Porter or Pale Horse, Pale Rider, I picked up the book for a second look. It was just a cloth-bound hardcover without its book jacket, so there was no book summary to look at. What did I do instead? I glanced inside, of course. I picked up a couple of phrases from the inside and saw that whoever Katherine Anne Porter was and whatever her book was about, she could turn a nice phrase. For three dollars, I figured it would be worth taking home.

This book is actually three books--"three short novels," as the title page puts it, though I would probably call them more short stories than short novels or novellas. They're all around 60 or 70 pages. So they're short, easy reads--first published in the 1930's, I believe. And they're all pretty good, too.

The first is Old Mortality, which has somewhat to do with different generations in a family and the way that they perceive each other--and "their day," whether referring to the past or the future. Noon Wine is about a family on a farm who gets some hired help from a hardworking man who doesn't like to help. And Pale Horse, Pale Rider is a WWI story from the home front. I think my interest in each story fell in the exact same order that I read them: I liked each one better than the last, with Pale Horse, Pale Rider being my favorite.

What I was guessing about the "literary angle" is definitely true for these stories. While they are simple and straightforward in many ways and follow the same general writing style of the era, there are some beautiful sentences in here and some thoughts or themes that can easily lead to more discussion. A lot of tragedy, too, though it's presented in such a simple and poetic way that it doesn't make you too sad: it just makes you savor and it makes you think. A bit about the land, plenty about people and relationships, and much about making one's own way in one's own life. I would call that the primary message within the storytelling: each person that each story settles on makes a decision about his/her life, despite what other characters have said or done or suggested, and it is that decision that will shape the outcome of the rest of their lives. There is a certain inevitability, too, despite their decisions: they'll all still have heartbreak and tragedy and difficulty and regret and death in their lives. But I think there is just enough hope in there, too. Poignant, yes, that would be the word.

This is all very brief commentary I'm offering. I suppose I could have done a separate post for each story. Anyway, I'm happy to have found this book and I'm now interested in reading more from this author.

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