Published in 1962, The Reivers
is the last novel written by American author William Faulkner. The novel was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1963. Faulkner was previously granted this award for his book A Fable,
making him one of only three writers to be awarded it more than once. The Reivers
was adapted into a 1969 film directed by Mark Rydell and starring Steve McQueen as Boon Hogganbeck.
Set in the first decade of the twentieth century, the novel revolves around eleven-year-old Lucius Priest, who accompanies family friend, employee, and protégé Boon Hogganbeck to Memphis to see a prostitute Miss Corrie, of whom Boon is a frequent client whenever he has the means to pay. Boon hopes to woo Miss Corrie and convince her to marry him. Part-Chickasaw Indian, Boon is tough and faithful but completely unpredictable and unreliable.
As Boon has no way of getting to Memphis, he steals the car of Lucius’s grandfather. The novel gets its title from this, as Boon becomes a reiver by committing this theft. Lucius’s grandfather, the president of a Jefferson bank and owner of the Winton Flyer, only the second automobile ever to be seen in the county, has gone to Louisiana to attend a funeral. Boon tempted Lucius to go in with him on the theft of the automobile with the proposal that they drive the Winton Flyer to Memphis, and Lucius finally succumbed to the temptation. After considerable conniving, they set out, only to discover shortly afterward that Ned William McCaslin, a black man who works with Boon at Lucius's grandfather's horse stables, has hidden under a tarpaulin on the backseat.
After setting out on their journey, they discover the roads to be in poor condition and are forced to stop overnight at Miss Ballenbaugh’s, a small country store with a loft above it that acts as lodging for the convenience of fishermen and hunters. The next morning, after one of Miss Ballenbaugh’s famous breakfasts, they set off once again. They soon come to Hell Creek bottom, the deepest mud hole in all of Mississippi. There is no way around it and the automobile becomes stuck in the mud. All of their efforts to free the car are in vain. The crew finally gives up, exasperated; sensing a prime opportunity, a local redneck shows up with his horses and plow to pull them out, then sets to work bargaining a price for his efforts.
Finally, the trio arrives in Memphis. Boon drives them directly to Miss Reba’s brothel on Catalpa Street so that he can see Miss Corrie, who is one of Miss Reba’s girls. That night, Ned, a reckless gambling man, trades the borrowed automobile for a stolen racehorse never known to run any better than second. Before the three can return to Jefferson, Lucius has to ride the stolen horse in a race against a better horse, Colonel Linscomb’s Acheron, in the hopes of winning back his grandfather’s automobile.
Their time in Memphis turns out to be quite eventful, as all three members of the group become entangled in various dramas involving the locals. Lucius fights with Otis, a vicious boy who has made unforgivable comments about his aunt, Miss Corrie. With this chivalric gesture, Lucius restores the young woman’s self-respect. Boon and Ned become involved in difficulties with the law, represented by a corrupt deputy sheriff Butch Lovemaiden. It is discovered that Otis has stolen the gold tooth prized by Miss Reba’s maid, Minnie. Boon realizes that he is not the only man in line for Miss Corrie’s hand in marriage, and he has to fight the others to win her honor. Because of these delays, Lucius is forced to assume a gentleman’s responsibilities of courage and good conduct. He loses the innocence of childhood and is at times close to despair, but he realizes that to turn back would bring him shame.
Lucius survives the ordeal, but at considerable cost to his conscience and peace of mind. Grandfather Priest, who arrives to straighten everything out, has the final word on the boy’s escapade. When Lucius asks how he can forget his folly and guilt, his grandfather tells him that he will not be able to, because nothing in life is ever forgotten or lost. When Lucius wants to know what he can do, his grandfather says that he must live with it. To the weeping boy’s protests, the old man replies that a gentleman can live through anything because he must always accept the responsibility of his actions and the weight of their consequences. He concludes by telling Lucius to go wash his face: A gentleman may cry, but he washes his face afterward.