Jimmy's Reviews > Pale Horse, Pale Rider

Pale Horse, Pale Rider by Katherine Anne Porter
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Apr 14, 2011

really liked it
bookshelves: female, short-stories, year-1930s

“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': smart and observant with a subtle humor. It reminded me of Elizabeth Bishop's poetry at times. The story itself wasn't that special, but sweet Lord, the telling of it was! You’re led to see the characters one way and then slowly more layers get revealed. The story doesn’t progress chronologically (although it does do that on the surface) but the real story (of the family) progresses along the z axis, deeper and richer, with counter stories laid upon them so that there are multiple versions you can see through. The characters are funny, but dark, and believable. Not much else to say, other than perfect. 5/5

On the positive side, all the stories in this collection are completely different, so she's not like one of those writers who writes the same story over and over again. On the downside, I really loved the first story, so the rest of the collection seemed like a bit of a let-down. I especially missed the humor mixed with the bitterness. Like the quote above, the humor seemed to have left after the first story.

The second story 'Noon Wine' was more of a traditional story. I get the impression that the author had a dark view of knowledge, what can be gained from it and what will inevitably be lost. Or what will be gained against one’s will. Insanity infects Mr. Thompson as if the mere suggestion was all it took. Then, he couldn’t get the facts straight in his head, and the lack of knowledge drives him insaner. 3.5/5

'Pale Horse, Pale Rider' was also really good, with descriptive lines like this:
His eyes were pale tan with orange flecks in them, and his hair was the color of a haystack when you turn the weathered top back to the clear straw beneath.
The prose shines, and then takes a wild turn when she goes through the delirium of her illness, mirroring her sick state. A sad story that captures well what it would have been like to be alive and young during the end of the first world war, and when the flu epidemic was spreading. 4/5
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message 1: by [deleted user] (new)

Like Elizabeth Bishop? Sold.


Steve She is a lovely writer...


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