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Pale Horse, Pale Rider

3.99  ·  Rating details ·  3,911 ratings  ·  579 reviews
First published in 1939, these three short novels secured the author’s reputation as a master of short fiction.

From the gothic Old South to revolutionary Mexico, few writers have evoked such a multitude of worlds, both exterior and interior, as powerfully as Katherine Anne Porter. This collection gathers together the best of her Pulitzer Prize-winning short fiction, includ
Hardcover, 208 pages
Published June 18th 1990 by Mariner Books (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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Julie G ("Doctor, my eyes!"  Offline for a week)
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
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
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
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
Pale Horse, Pale Rider is according to Katherine Anne Porter three short novels. It was first published in 1939 and considered to be some of her best writing, appearing separately in various publications such as The Southern Review.

The first novella or short novel is Old Mortality. I loved this story about two young sisters and their involved family and family legends and myths. As the sisters Maria and Miranda try to sort through all of the family's folklore to determine what is the myth and wh
Bob Brinkmeyer
May 07, 2020 rated it it was amazing
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.

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
Connie G
Oct 01, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: fiction, classic
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
Apr 25, 2022 rated it really liked it
I was going to make a few comments about this collection and was going to call them novellas because I didn’t think they were short stories because they were too long, and I didn’t think they were novels because they were not novel length. But then I read the preface to Porter’s Collected Stories and Other Writings, written by Porter herself in 1965 and she had this special request:
• Please do not call my short novels Novelettes, or even worse, Novellas. Novelette is a classic usage for a trivia
Nov 20, 2017 rated it it was amazing
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.

Jan 05, 2021 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Apr 14, 2011 rated it really liked it
“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':
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
Dec 23, 2010 rated it it was amazing
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
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
Apr 06, 2010 rated it it was amazing
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
Ray LaManna
May 17, 2020 rated it it was amazing
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
Jan 15, 2009 rated it it was amazing
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.
May 09, 2021 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2021, short-stories
Katherine Anne Porter's Pale Horse Pale Rider is a collection of 3 short novels. Her prose is precise and deliberate, which serves these 3 tales.

Old Mortality is a short novel that feels expansive due, in part, to its ranging time frame, 1885 - 1912. Porter explores the theme of illusion vs. reality. She masterfully develops her characters, and they feel entirely real. Amy, an archetypal Southern belle who is long dead, takes center stage for much of the story. She is a family legend that is he
Feb 23, 2022 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
In Old Mortality Maria and Miranda were raised on the stories of their beautiful and spirited Aunt Amy, her short marriage to Gabriel who loved her, and her sudden death. She was the favorite sister of their father. Everyone was compared to her, and nobody could measure up to her perfection. Amy rode horses best in the pure Spanish style, and her waltz was lighter and smoother.

The sisters’ lives were filled with family, stories, poetry, theater, and books. “There was then a life beyond a life i
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
Simon Evans
Nov 14, 2021 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Three short, varied, engrossing and well written novels in this collection. One a dark coming of age story, rife with family complexity, two a tense tale of a mysterious stranger with tragic consequences and three a fever dream of a novel.
Reading this collection made me want to learn more about the author. What an interesting character she is and how disappointing that she isn’t better known in the UK.
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
Donna Brown
Jun 17, 2013 rated it it was amazing
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
Jul 02, 2021 added it
Three novellas captured my imagination in increasing order. First, Old Mortality, a tale of family experiences; second, Noon Wine, capturing the burden of guilt; and third, Pale Horse, Pale Rider, the story of a journalist’s personal encounter with the 1918 influenza. Another series of reads with a common theme, death. I enjoyed Ms. Porter’s writing, yet I wonder whether it’s so necessary to rely on this repeated subject; I guess it sells books. Aspiring authors, take note.
Kasa Cotugno
Excellent in all respects.
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.
Dec 21, 2021 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
All three novellas are amazing works of art, but I especially loved--and cried ugly tears at--Noon Wine and Pale Horse, Pale Rider. Highly recommended.
Steve R
Apr 05, 2022 rated it liked it
This short novel from the late 1930s is set in America during the closing years of the first World War. It is part love story, part social analysis, and part penetration into the effect of impending death on those facing it. Miranda and Adam are a young couple, almost too innocent in the timidity with which they show their deep devotion to one another. About to go overseas to join the fight against ‘the Boche’, Adam dreams of becoming a civil engineer. Working in a relatively subservient role at ...more
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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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29 likes · 15 comments
“Death always leaves one singer to mourn.” 26 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…