Pale Horse, Pale Riderby Katherine Anne Porter
She was a spirited-looking young woman, with dark curly hair cropped and parted on the side, a short oval face with straight eyebrows, and a large curved mouth. A round white collar rose from the neck of her tightly buttoned black basque, and round white cuffs set off lazy hands with dimples in them, lying at ease in the folds of her flounced skirt which gathered around to a bustle.
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This book clearly deserves more than five stars. Pale Horse, Pale Rider is one of the finest American novels of all time. Long before nonfiction books about dying and coming back to life became popular, Katherine Anne Porter wrote this brilliant story about life and death during the influenza epidemic near the end of World War I. Unlike any other book I have read on this subject, she successfully captures the perspective of the beauty of death eclipsing the beauty of life. The book further develops this theme to explain how our perspective shifts back towards favoring life, as the memory of death retreats. Like all great novels, this one transcends its obvious theme into a broader one -- the meaning of the inevitable death that ends each of our lives . . . and what life means in this context. One of the fascinating plot complications that she uses in this book is showing how 'duty' to life usually means increasing the likelihood of death. As a result, you see death more visibly in front of you through this book than you ever will in every day life. The story begins with a young woman reporter who is concerned over the chance of losing her job because she has refused to buy a Liberty Bond. She feels she cannot afford it, and she doesn't want to buy one any way. The reason she cannot afford one is due to have been demoted for refusing to write a story about a young woman that another paper ran. As she races from social event to social event, while scribbling her short columns in between, she longs for a personal life and a future. She is attracted to a young man in the Army who is awaiting shipment abroad. She knows this relationship is hopeless. He will be gone in a few days. Also, on the front, people with his job of clearing mines usually die quickly. Against this potential for romance is an influenza epidemic that is taking many lives. Our heroine finds herself feeling a little under the weather. What happens next is described in some of the greatest writing about illness since Marcel Proust's Remembrance of Things Past. This is quite a short novel, so you can read it quickly. I suggest doing it in one sitting, if possible. In that way, the cadence of the inner voices of this story's progression will have a much stronger effect on you. I do recommend reading this on a weekend, though, early in the day. You might not sleep too well if you wait until late at night. After you have finished reading this novel, I suggest that you consider how you view death. Consider the event from several perspectives: emotional, intellectual, as an ending, and as a beginning. Also, look at other peoples' deaths as well as your own. If you do this carefully, I think you will see new perspectives that will be helpful to you. I remember how surprised I was when I first met people who saw death as an opportunity to happily celebrate the life of one of their friends. When I thought about my own reaction to that, I realized that I needed to spend some time thinking more about death. The results were very worthwhile for me. I hope they will be for you, as well. See beauty in all the light around you! Donald Mitchell, co-author of The Irresistible Growth Enterprise and The 2,0