“The three short novels that make up Pale Horse, Pale Rider — Old Mortality, Noon Wine, and the title story itself — ask in turn the three questions that, as the critic Mark Schorer put it, humankind has always asked: What were we? What are we? What will we be? . . .
“But it is where we find ourselves in this century that makes the title story of Porter’s collection one that must be read. . . .
“It is 1918, in the midst of both World War I and the influenza epidemic, a concurrence that one character gives a decidedly contemporary spin: ‘They say that it is really caused by germs brought by a German ship to Boston,’ she tells Miranda. ‘Somebody reported seeing a strange, thick, greasy-looking cloud float up out of Boston Harbor’ . . .
“‘The worst of the war is the fear and suspicion,’ Miranda tells Adam. The people who look as if they had ‘pulled down the shutters over their minds and their hearts . . . ready to leap if you make one gesture or say one word they do not understand instantly. . . . It’s the skulking about, and the lying. It’s what war does to the mind and the heart . . .’ . . .
“Porter herself wrote that the arts ‘are what we find again when the ruins are cleared away.’ We discard voices such as hers at our peril.”
Alice McDermott, “Why Libraries Should Stock Pale Horse, Pale Rider,” NPR Books, July 15, 2011.
“Strolling, keeping step, his stout polished well-made boots setting themselves down firmly beside her thin-soled black suede, they put off as long as they could the end of their moment together, and kept up as well as they could their small talk that flew back and forth over little grooves worn in the thin upper surface of the brain, things you could say and hear clink reassuringly at once without disturbing the radiance which played and darted about the simple and lovely miracle of being two persons named Adam and Miranda, twenty-four years old each, alive and on earth at the same moment: ‘Are you in the mood for dancing, Miranda?’ and ‘I’m always in the mood for dancing, Adam!’ but there were things in the way, the day that ended with dancing was a long way to go.”
“Bells screamed all off key, wrangling together as they collided in midair, horns and whistles mingled shrilly with cries of human distress; sulphur-colored light exploded through the black windowpane and flashed away in darkness. Miranda waking from a dreamless sleep asked without expecting an answer, ‘What is happening?’ for there was a bustle of voices and footsteps in the corridor, and a sharpness in the air; the far clamour went on, a furious exasperated shrieking like a mob in revolt.
“The light came on, and Miss Tanner said in a furry voice, ‘Hear that? They’re celebrating. It’s the Armistice. The war is over, my dear.’ Her hands trembled. She rattled a spoon in a cup, stopped to listen, held the cup out to Miranda. From the ward for old bedridden women down the hall floated a ragged chorus of cracked voices singing, ‘My country, ’tis of thee . . .’
“Sweet land . . . oh, terrible land of this bitter world where the sound of rejoicing was a clamor of pain, where ragged tuneless old women, sitting up waiting for their evening bowl of cocoa, were singing, ‘Sweet land of Liberty–‘
“’Oh, say, can you see?’ their hopeless voices were asking next, the hammer strokes of metal tongues drowning them out. ‘The war is over,’ said Miss Tanner, her underlip held firmly, her eyes blurred. Miranda said, ‘Please open the window, please, I smell death in here.’”