Book notes | Pale Horse, Pale Rider

Katherine Anne Porter’s lyrical short novel Pale Horse, Pale Rider was the primary focus on August 27 when UMRA’s Fourth Friday Book Club (aka Book Club II) met over Zoom. 

Pale Horse, Pale Rider, the third and final tale in Porter’s 1939 volume of the same name, draws on her own experiences as a young woman. It features a 24-year-old Denver newspaper writer, Miranda, caught up in a just-blossoming love affair with a soldier during the overlapping horrors of World War I and the 1918 flu pandemic. (Miranda was a child and adolescent in the multigenerational first tale Old Mortality.) 

Book Club II participants also discussed the mesmerizing middle tale Noon Wine, about a quiet Swede from North Dakota whose years as a hard-working, harmonica-playing farmhand in Texas abruptly culminate in tragedy.

When the ruins are cleared away
Throughout the discussion, the sheer power of Porter’s writing was repeatedly praised. Many passages stand out as arrestingly poetic in and of themselves, apart from the narrative; to cite just one example, the final sentence of Pale Horse, Pale Rider is elegiac: “Now there would be time for everything.” That sentence deftly captures Miranda’s hollow desolation on learning of an irremediable loss just as she begins to recover from a weeks-long, near-death experience. 

More than a century after the timeframe of Miranda’s harrowing illness and intertwined heartbreak, the parallels with today’s COVID-19 pandemic and current wars struck Book Club II participants as eerie. Although Porter does depict the joys of a budding romance, she somberly foregrounds the timeless complexities of nightmares, religion, workplace and wartime politics, emotional and physical suffering, and ultimately death. As she herself once stated, the arts “are what we find again when the ruins are cleared away.” 

Upcoming meetings:
September 24. Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison
October 22. A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole
November 26. Burnt Shadows by Kamila Shamsie

For more information, please contact Book Club II facilitators Dorothy Marden  or Margaret Catamby .  

—Mary Knatterud, UMRA Book Club II member

Publication date: 
August 29, 2021
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