Friday, 14 September 2012

Run With the Horsemen

Title: Run with the Horsemen
Author: Ferrol Sams
Series: Porther Osbourne Jr. #1
Pages: 422
Published: August 28th 1982
Published by: Peachtree Publishers

A boy's account of growing up through the rituals of life on an ancestral farm in middle Georgia between the big wars. It is a rueful, humorous story of the people in one rural county, but the telling cuts so deep it breaks through to the universal. Reminiscent of To Kill a Mockingbird, Tom Sawyer, and The Catcher in the Rye, "Run with the Horsemen" is the powerfully moving and delightfully endearing story of Porter Osborne Jr.'s journey to adulthood.

It's deep-south USA during the Great Depression. Porter Osbourne Jr. is just doing his best to grow up among all the other stuff going on. Ambitious and intelligent, but also a consummate (thought not always intentional) trouble-maker, he's lives on a cotton plantation with his parents, sisters and much of his extended family, never mind the coloured people who work the farm with them. This books follows the first 15 or so years of his life.

I'm not entirely sure exactly at which point I began to love this book. It's just a series of stories - with a slightly unsatisfying end, at least up until the point where I was told it was the first in a series - about a boy growing up on a farm in Georgia during the depression. That's it. Just...stuff that happens to him, troubles he faces (and gets himself into) and him growing up.

But I do know why I love it. It is, I think, pretty much entirely because of the character of Porter Osbourne Jr. - most commonly referred to in the narrative simply as 'the boy'. He is determined and intelligent and kind-hearted, with quite a strong mischievous streak running through him which provides much entertainment for him and others, but also getting him into trouble on occasion. His father says something at the end of the fist chapter which I think sums him up brilliantly: "He's not a bad boy. He minds well. I just can't think of enough things to tell him not to do." But for all this, he is principled: he stands up for what he believes is right no matter what, and that is because of his parents.

You don't see much of his mother. She is present but not central, but he obviously loves her and she has done a wonderful job of bringing him up 'proper'. When it comes to his father, he teaches him some very good lessons but is very flawed. The start of the book put me in mind of To Kill a Mockingbird namely because of the setting I believe, but now I think about it, Porter Osbourne Sr. is similar to Atticus Finch, but a less perfect version. He does his best to bring up his children well and give them freedom to grow and learn, but he has some quite significant flaws of his which inhibit this somewhat, and he is a lot more absent that Atticus.

Each chapter is a self-contained little story and while some of them are better than others, all of them are enjoyable. Of course, with this comes the problem that most of the time, though the writing is engaging, there is a natural breaking point at the end of each chapter as whichever little story is wrapped up. Unfortunately, this makes it all too easy to put the book down at the end of each chapter, and is probably a lot of the reason why it took me as long as it did to read this book. On top of this, the very southern accents of the coloured staff made it difficult at times to understand just what was being said. I have minimal experience of this accent, so it may be that this is less of an issue for those who are more used to it, but it was a little difficult at times. 

Still, overall a very good book.

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