is a 1937 short novel by Katherine Ann Porter. Porter was very specific that she wished her short novels to be called short novels, and not “novellas,” a term she described as “slack, boneless, affected.” Noon Wine
tells the story of Royal Earle Thompson, a dairy farmer whose life changes dramatically, although not overnight, after hiring a strange, laconic Swede to work his farm.
It is the late 1890s, and Royal Earle Thompson's dairy farm is not prospering. This is in large part due to Royal's poor management – he is lazy, and feels that much of the labor the farm requires is beneath him. His chronically ill wife, Ellie, does her best to keep up with the chores that Royal considers women's work, but she barely manages. The couple have two young sons, Arthur, who's six, and Herbet, who's eight.
But everything changes for the Thompsons when a taciturn Swedish man named Olaf Helton arrives from North Dakota. He approaches Royal and asks for work; Thompson agrees. He will pay Olaf a small wage, and give him room and board in exchange for help around the farm. Olaf mentions that he was formerly paid a higher wage in North Dakota, but accepts the deal, nonetheless. He turns out to be an extremely hard working, efficient, organized fellow, and his efforts completely transform Thompson's farm. In very short time, it becomes more productive than it has ever before been, and begins to actually turn a profit.
Olaf is a very quiet man, and the Thompsons learn little of his past during his time with them. Royal's initial condescension towards the foreigner gives way to respect as he realizes how much he owes to the Swede. He begins to give him greater responsibilities at the farm, and pays him more as well. But one day Ellie catches Olaf violently shaking her boys. They had taken his harmonica. Upset by the unexpected scene, she asks Royal to speak to Olaf, and tell him that he is not to discipline the boys.
The scene is never repeated, and it begins to fade into distant memory as the years continue. Olaf's productivity never wanes, and the family thrives. Olaf, despite his odd silence and other quirks, comes to be seen as very much one of the family. Then one day a man named Homer T. Hatch appears. His mannerisms inspire immediate and overwhelming disgust in Royal, who finds him insulting and abrasive. Homer claims he is a bounty hunter and that he is after Olaf because Olaf is in fact an escaped mental patient who is not meant to be living among regular folk. Olaf is also, according to Homer, a murderer responsible for the death of his own brother. His brother had lost Olaf's harmonica, and it sent him into such a rage that he stabbed him to death with a pitchfork. Royal is dumbfounded by this news, but doesn't want to lose Olaf's help on the farm. He also has an irrational dislike for Homer, so he doesn't agree to give Olaf up.
Royal then appears to see Homer stab Olaf in the stomach. Rushing to defend his prize farm worker, Royal grabs an axe and strikes Homer down. Ellie arrives to see Homer fallen and dead, and Olaf fleeing into the distance. She faints. The town Sheriff and his men track down Olaf, and shoot him. When they recover his body, he has no knife wound – he was never actually attacked by Homer. Royal, it seems, hallucinated. Still, he coaches Ellie to corroborate his story, and though she is resistant, she acquiesces in the end.
Royal is put on trial for killing Homer, but the trial is mostly for show. He is acquitted. But his acquittal isn't the end of his troubles. He is troubled with frequent flashbacks to the murder, and is sometimes unsure of whether his actions were justified. Further, he has lost standing and reputation in the community. Feeling the weight of ostracization, he forces Ellie to come with him as he begins a round of private visits to the various neighbor households, in an attempt to explain himself, and regain his community's good graces. His attempt fails, however.
Near the end of the story, Thompson has a realization: it isn't just his community that no longer trusts him. His wife and nearly grown children are also afraid of him – and his boys don't like to leave their mother with him. Distraught, Royal puts on his best attire, and heads out to the furthest corner of his property. He writes a note explaining that his murder of Homer was only what his friend Olaf would have done for him. He reiterates that Homer was a bad man and deserved to die, but claims that he didn't mean to kill him, only protect Olaf. Then he shoots himself.Noon Wine
has been the subject of much discussion since its publication, and has been compared to Greek tragedy in its structure. It has also been adapted several times for radio and television. The 1966 television adaptation won director Sam Peckinpah a nomination for Best Television Adaptation by the Writers Guild, and for Best Television Direction by the Directors Guild of America.