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Pale Horse, Pale Rider

4.01  ·  Rating details ·  3,398 ratings  ·  492 reviews
The three sensitively told short novels -- "Noon Wine," "Old Mortality," and the title story -- are among the most clearly conceived and exquisitely wrought brief narratives in American fiction. A writer of few books, each one an ornament to English letters, Katherine Anne Porter has achieved and maintained an illustrious position among her contemporaries. Pale Horse, Pale ...more
Hardcover, The Modern Library, 264 pages
Published by Random House (first published 1939)
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Brendan It's possible the song was never recorded or written down. Miranda (a lightly fictionalized Porter) and her boyfriend Adam both claim to have heard bl…moreIt's possible the song was never recorded or written down. Miranda (a lightly fictionalized Porter) and her boyfriend Adam both claim to have heard black men sing it in Texas in the oil and cotton fields, probably around the turn of the century, and even they have trouble remembering the lyrics. But here is what they do remember:

"'There's a lot more to it than that,' said Adam, 'about forty verses, the rider done taken away mammy, pappy, brother, sister, the whole family besides the lover —'

'But not the singer, not yet,' said Miranda. 'Death always leaves one singer to mourn. "Death,"' she sang, '"oh, leave me one singer to mourn—"'"

It's also possible, and I don't know if there's any scholarship on this, that Porter made the song up herself.(less)
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Average rating 4.01  · 
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Reading Road Trip 2020

Current location: Colorado

I've been humored by how many readers on here have cracked open Stephen King's The Stand during this pandemic, but now I know that I've read a worse book during quarantine, and it was by accident.

Worst book to read during a pandemic: Pale Horse, Pale Rider.

In a true moment of irony, you might be amused to learn that I was originally going to read Peter Heller's The Dog Stars for my home state of Colorado (a novel which starts out at a location just
Paul Bryant
Feb 02, 2021 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: short-stories
1) She almost has a whole different style for every one of these 12 stories. That was impressive.

2) Two of them will be officially entered into the list of My All Time Favourite Short Stories at a ceremony to take place at 4pm this coming Thursday. Refreshments will be provided.

3) It must be admitted that while she is always assured, lyrical, accurate and compassionate, she doesn’t lose much sleep over plots. This will not bother some readers but it might bother you. It kind of a little bit bot
4.5 stars

Despite the fact I’d previously enjoyed a short Christmas story by Katherine Anne Porter, I believed the two of us weren’t destined to be kindred spirits when I attempted to read her full length novel, Ship of Fools, several months ago. However, some enlightened friends here convinced me not to give up on her entirely until I try more of her short fiction. Once again, just like mother, they knew best.

This collection consists of three separate stories, though the first and the third are
mark monday
O Death, where is thy sting? O Grave, where is thy victory? such soothing words. the afterlife as a just reward - Jesus has taken the sting of death away; the victory that lies beyond the grave - for all those who love Him. but alas, there is no such savior, no such leavening of pain, no embracing of the afterworld in the three novellas that comprise Pale Horse, Pale Rider.

"Old Mortality"

first: death is a mask, a veil, a shadow cast long and dark... it reshapes those it has taken, makes them mor
Sep 25, 2008 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: readers who want to be chilled & astounded
Recommended to John by: many folks; I got to it late
In this review I'm speaking only on the title piece, a "short novel" according to Porter, but I do have to say that "Old Mortality" (in the same collection) is also nothing short of magnificent. Still, "Pale Horse, Pale Rider" is the one that clings to the nerves, a masterpiece of illness and the implacable rooting after truth. The illness is personal, to be sure; this is the great work out of the influenza epidemic of the late 19-teens, a border-jumping holocaust that no other artist has found ...more
Diane Barnes
Sep 27, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
My last Katherine Anne Porter book was "Ship of Fools", which was overlong and tedious. The three novellas that make up this collection are all excellent, leading me to believe that short fiction is her forte. I've also read some of her short stories in "Flowering Judas", and they were good as well. According to the chronology in the back of my book, her personal life was a mess, so maybe she just didn't have the stamina for longer work. ...more
Bob Brinkmeyer
May 07, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Katherine Anne Porter is a master of the short story and the short novel (her term for a novella), but not so much the novel (Ship of Fools, while fascinating in many ways, is a mess overall). Pale Horse, Pale Rider collects three of Porter’s short novels—Old Mortality, Noon Wine, and Pale Horse, Pale Rider—and represents the pinnacle of Porter’s achievement. It’s a masterpiece, one of those works in which not a word is out of place, not a word mis-chosen. It’s as carefully wrought as a sonnet.

Connie G
Oct 01, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: classic, fiction
The three short novels in the book "Pale Horse, Pale Rider" have common themes of mortality and death. The title comes from the Book of Revelation 6:8 where Death was the rider on a pale horse (one of the Four Horsemen of the Apoocalypse.)

The semi-autobiographical title story features a journalist, Miranda, and a soldier, Adam, in the days leading up to his deployment during World War I. The influenza epidemic of 1918 is hitting Denver, and Miranda contracts the disease. She experiences nightmar
3.5 stars rounded up.

Sometimes the hardest reviews to write are for books you didn’t love but know are brilliant. This was that book for me. It is comprised of three “short novels” written by Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award winning author Katherine Anne Porter and published in 1939: ‘Old Mortality,’ ‘Noon Wine,’ and ‘Pale Horse, Pale Rider.’ (Porter insisted these be called “short novels” and not “novellas.”) Each of the three involve complex themes of personal obsession and death/near de
Nov 20, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This holds characterizations that are struck deeply. Some of the best I've read in my life to sickness and to the discontent of "not fitting"- as well. All three novellas are brilliant.

Apr 14, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
“Blue was never my color.” She sighed with a humorous bitterness. The humor seemed momentary, but the bitterness was a constant state of mind.
William Gass's Fifty Literary Pillars, which is a list of the 50 books that influenced him most, contains this book: one of only 4 by female authors (the others were Virginia Woolf, Colette, and Gertrude Stein), so I thought I had to check this out.

It's a book of 3 novellas (or long short stories). Immediately I was gripped by the voice in 'Old Mortality':
Jerrie (redwritinghood)
The last of the three novels ‘Pale Horse, Pale Rider’ is the best in the collection. It is a fever dream of a novel about one woman’s experience with the 1918 flu. It recounts the horror of a deadly pandemic coming on the heels of a major war. The other two novels are also tragedies reflecting life in the American southwest in late 1800s-early 1900s. 3.5 ⭐️ overall rounded up
Lori Keeton
Three excellent short novels by Katherine Anne Porter, each with very different topics. In Old Mortality, Miranda and her sister grapple with their devotion to their family who idolize and immortalize a mysterious aunt who has passed. They grow up with story after story of how beautiful and perfect they all believed her to be. Stuck in the idea that to be loved and accepted, Miranda must adhere to her familial expectations coming from the memories told over and over rather than make her own choi ...more
Oct 31, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I came to this while looking through the "Literary Pillars" by Gass. I'm a sucker for Southern Gothic, and two-out-of-three of these short novels are absolute killers. "Noon Wine" is canonical, the best 'genre' work I've read in a while. Pick it up, read it, put it down. Then find yourself shell-shocked for the rest of the evening. Sorta like listening to the Bay City Rollers. ...more
While all three novellas in this book are excellent, both "Noon Wine" and "Pale Horse, Pale Rider" quietly tragic, my heart belongs to "Old Mortality." The first story in the collection, it explores how a family's reverence for its past generations tends to be as romantic as it is based in reality. There's tragedy in this story too, but it's the everyday tragedy of unmet expectations.

"Pale Horse, Pale Rider" continues where "Old Mortality" left off, with the story of the family's youngest gener
Jan 15, 2009 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I read this as a teenager and to this date have never ever forgotten it. I get goose bumps remembering it. One day I will reread, and see what I think of it almost 40 years later, especially now that I know it was about the 1911 flu pandemic.
Ray LaManna
May 17, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
These are really 3 separate novels...all excellent. Pale Horse, Pale Rider is one of the greatest novels about the Great Pandemic of 1918... very relevant for today's world. But don't skip the other short novels- 'Old Mortality' and 'Noon Wine.' They are both beautifully written...and Noon Wine was turned into a movie several times (look online for the 1966 TV version directed by Sam Peckinpah). ...more
How on god's green earth hadn't I picked this up before? A girl I worked with and took classes with in college wrote her senior thesis on Porter's 'feminist' revisions of Faulkner, but I suppose I was so busy with my own thesis & worries about grad school that I didn't pick her up at that time and simply forgot about her until forced to read these three short novels (not "novellas", says Porter!) for a seminar last month. Books remain neglected on my shelves for years & years and nothing is bett ...more
Aug 26, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I was given this book in the early 1970’s from my Army buddy Butch Drury, himself in the Ph.D. program in English when he was drafted; he now is in the Hospital Administration department at Northwestern, but remains a Renaissance Man, but I digress. This wonderful short book by the author of Ship of Fools contains three short novels about change, sadness, tragedy, sometimes hope, and deep character study, about both individuals and the environment they’re in. Her prose is carefully and thoughtfu ...more
Donna Brown
Jun 17, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
For decades I have wanted to read Pale Horse, Pale Rider, but who recommended it or what they might have said is lost in the cobwebs of my mind. For that reason, I jumped straight to this novella, which is last. in no way did it disappoint. The strength of that WWI bleakness squirms through the story. The promise of love torn away, shattered as completely as if it were on a battlefield. The lesser men hawking patriotism as if it were a vacuum cleaner. The close intimacy of the slow dance, the ha ...more
Sep 25, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Excellent three short novels I've long wanted to read. Had to go on a waiting list to get the Kindle edition, well worth the wait.

In the first, a pair of young women learn the value of appearance, demeanor, and all the 'ladylike' behaviors they should effect in the late 1800's - early 1900's. What men want, what men look for, and what middle to upper-class men supposedly 'deserve'. The most intelligent woman the girls know is one 'without much of a chin,' and though highly intelligent, she pays
Claire Fuller
Moving story about Miranda, a young newspaper reporter (relegated to the culture section for suppressing an elopement story) who in 1918 falls love with Adam, a man about to go to fight overseas. Just as he is leaving Miranda catches influenza and is hospitalised. We follow her through her fever dreams in a very wonderful and disturbing way.
Bob Newman
Dec 06, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Death à trois

With these three, very different stories Porter fully emerged onto the American literary scene in the 1930s, having scored a success previously with "The Flowering Judas Tree and other stories". Though the book has only the three sections, they are so separate as to warrant separate reviews. Only one character, Miranda, appears in two stories. She is probably Porter's alter ego, though I am not so familiar with the details. All the stories deal with Death in some manner, Love plays
(copied review) The title story "Pale Horse, Pale Rider" is about the relationship between a newspaper woman, Miranda, and a soldier, Adam, during the influenza epidemic of 1918. (view spoiler) The story is set in Denver, Colorado. Porter herself lived for a time in Denver, where she wrote reviews for the Ro ...more
Donald Mclean
Aug 02, 2013 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
It may be that there is some great literary value to this book. If there is, I really just don't care.

There are some books that are very sad, as if the dog dies heroically at the end, and everyone cries. I have no problem with this. Sometimes we all need a good cry.

There are other books where the author goes out of their way to show the reader how horrible the universe can be, as if the dog dies meaninglessly near the beginning of the book, and the characters spend the rest of the book kicking i
"Don't you love being alive?" asked Miranda. "Don't you love weather and the colors at different times of the day, and all the sounds and noises like children screaming in the next lot, and the automobile horns and little bands playing in the street and the sound of food cooking?"

It's always good when I enjoy reading something I'm studying. What a great short story. I refer only to the title piece "Pale Horse, Pale Rider" in this review, although I'm keen to try some of Katherine Anne Porter's
Kasa Cotugno
Excellent in all respects.
Michael Andretti
Jesse Hanson
Jan 06, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I'm a horseman by birth (my older brother is an accomplished long distance rider) so this ghostly equestrian title kept popping out at me whenever I'd be browzing the quiet and narrow sacred halls of No Particular Library. In fact, the book has not much to do with horses, although it has some to do with them.
Katherine Anne Porter is a brilliant writer--I'd compare her easily to Steinbeck, with a distinctly feminine and completely unique style. She comes at each story from such an angle, throug
Apr 02, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This was a somewhat gritty and dark read. The central them of the book is death, as implied by its title; Death rides the pale horse in The Book of Revelations.
I decided to read this after reading Laura Spinney's Pale Rider: The Spanish Flu of 1918 and How it Changed the World, it's namesake an homage to this book.
"Pale Horse, Pale Rider" was very well-written. I can see why it was (and still is) so popular.
It is a semi-autobiographical story from author Katherine Anne Porter, who caught the
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Katherine Anne Porter was a Pulitzer Prize-winning American journalist, essayist, short story writer, novelist, and political activist. She is known for her penetrating insight; her works deal with dark themes such as betrayal, death and the origin of human evil.
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“Death always leaves one singer to mourn.” 24 likes
“Don't you love being alive?" asked Miranda. "Don't you love weather and the colors at different times of the day, and all the sounds and noises like children screaming in the next lot, and automobile horns and little bands playing in the street and the smell of food cooking?"
"I love to swim, too." said Adam.
"So do I," said Miranda, "we never did swim together.”
More quotes…