Funny novels for April Fool’s Day reading

We here in the Northeaster U.S. have had a long, hard winter.

We’re ready to enjoy some sunshine.

Even if the temperature doesn’t climb above 40 tomorrow, you can bask in the warmth of smiles with one of these funny vintage novels.

The Reivers

The Reivers is a folksy, rambling tale William Faulkner puts in the mouth of Lucius Priest,  an old man telling an “when I was your age” tell to his grandson.

Lucius recounts how in 1905 when he was 11, he and two pals who worked at the family’s freight business borrowed his grandfather’s automobile and drove  from Jefferson, Mississippi, up to Memphis, Tennessee.

One of the men traded the automobile for a horse, intending to win—how could they not win?—repurchase the auto with part of the proceeds, and come back home ahead of the game.

The Reivers has the kind of corny absurdity that’s a hallmark of country folk who know how to entertain themselves when nothing much is happening.

Fran

If The Reivers is humor for humor’s sake, Fran is humor for satire’s sake.

Writing in 1912, John Breckenridge Ellis uses Fran to satirize the “deserving orphan” novel formula that was wildly popular from the time of Charles Dickens until World War II, when the supply of orphans in the US and Britain dried up.

Orphaned after the death of her mother, Fran seeks out the scoundrel who abandoned her late mother, announces she plans to make his home her home, and does.

Ellis makes Fran’s father a hypocritical philanthropist, which give Ellis the chance to lampoon the pseudo-religious as well as the orphan novel formula.

Fran’s youthful appearance—she’s nearly 20 but looks about 13—allow Ellis to put her through the typical experiences of all fictional rescued orphans, such as going to school, dressing properly, and learning to be polite.

Fran’s school experiences are a hoot. Here’s a sample of what happens:

“Fran,” [school superintendent] Abbott reasoned, “if we put you in a room where you can understand the things we try to teach, if we make you thorough—”

“I don’t want to be thorough,” she explained, “I want to be happy. I guess all that schools were meant to do is to teach folks what’s in books, and how to stand in a straight line. The children in Class A, or Class B have their minds sheared and pruned to look alike; but I don’t want my brain after anybody’s pattern.”

Claire Ambler

In Claire Ambler, Booth Tarkington uses humor to edify.

Claire Ambler is an American heiress with unswerving loyalty to herself.  She’s a flapper of the jazz age, blissfully seeing herself as the center of the world.

“All her life—even when she was a child—she had seemed to be not one person but two. One was an honest person and the other appeared to be an artist. The honest person did the feeling and most of the thinking; but the artist directed her behaviour and cared about nothing except picturesque effects.”

Tarkington lets Clair flap until it’s clear to readers, if not to Clair herself, that her self-centeredness is not simply funny: It’s downright dangerous.

Sources

The Reivers is readily available from libraries and online book sources in a a variety of editions and formats. There’s also a film version, if you’d rather view than read.

Fran is available for download free at Project Gutenberg.

Claire Ambler is not available either through Project Gutenberg or in re-issue. I recommend you try WorldCat to see if it is available in a library near you.

Laughs overlay nostalgia in The Reivers

black antique car
Antique Car

The Reivers is a zany tale of a none-too-innocent rural Mississippi childhood related by Lucius Priest to his grandson.

At age 11, Lucius and two pals who work at the family’s freight business borrow his grandfather’s automobile and drive up to Memphis from Jefferson, Mississippi, no mean feat in 1905.

While Boon and Lucius eat supper at a brothel where Boon’s girl friend works, Ned trades the car for a horse. Ned plans to race the horse, bet heavily, collect a pile, and get the car back when the horse wins.

Unfortunately, the horse hates to run unless there’s another horse ahead of him.

Ned has to enlist Boon and Lucius to help.

William Faulkner’s narrator tells the story in a wheezy, cracker barrel manner, letting readers deduce what actually happened—if that is possible.  The yarn may be only a few facts embroidered by an old man’s fancy, the characters might be just enhanced wisps of Lucius’ memory.

The charm of the story is believing there was once a time when people who cared about one another might have had exciting adventures together and never come to any harm.

The Reivers: A Reminiscence
William Faulkner
Random House, 1962
305 pages
1962 Bestseller #10
My grade: B
 © 2012 Linda Gorton Aragoni

Photo credit: Black Antique car uploaded by Still