The story behind the purchase of Faulkner’s Sanctuary…as some books come by way of other means than through online…I bought this copy in 2015 from a fabulous old bookstore in a barn with the word BOOKS painted in large white letters on two of the broadsides of the weathered red walls facing the road, this was Phoenix Books in Freeville, NY. It was going out of business that spring/summer, it was sad picking through the shelves, feeling somewhat frantic. The place was an amazing maze of rooms, creaky floors, the occasional corner with a comfy chair, the smell of old books, oriental rugs, and old barn wood…it was fucking beautiful and now it’s gone… (it is still posted for sale!) When iconic places leave us, there’s a hole left behind.
Sanctuary depicts a side of life that is not for the faint of heart…it is a brutal novel involving rape, kidnapping, prostitution, bootlegging, murder; the array of characters and their motivations from nefarious to ignorance are a puzzle that will remain perplexing long after you finish reading it. There is evil in the world—it’s out there, and the disturbing thing about it, the people who do the most despicable things see nothing wrong with what they’re doing, who it hurts, kills, or the big picture of what destruction they cause overall. They don’t care about anything, only themselves and what they can gain by doing the worst. Faulkner, like any writer, goes to these mental landscapes, digging for the amalgam of what makes people tick. The random connections of people to one another, and the domino effect tripping from one to the next, and the radiating ripples caused by human actions. The end is merely the end of the events as they played out, in the good versus evil—evil bested good.
I found the women of this novel the most interesting. The underlying thread to protect “our women-folk” from the inappropriate attentions of men as it pertains to the young women like Temple and Benbow’s stepdaughter, Little Belle, they seem unwilling to want to be protected. Temple Drake is not only a victim of a brutal rape, but a victim of her privileged upbringing, her sense of right and wrong is profoundly skewed, figuring that simply saying “My Daddy is a judge” will get her out of any trouble that she can stir up, and everything will be all right. (It seems everyone that I’ve known have had “that friend” who was nothing but trouble, a drama queen from day one, and any attempts to help this woman with her problems always makes more problems as they go against any advice that is offered and only make their situation worse.) As much as I found Miss Reba, the madame of the brothel, amusingly outrageous, it was Ruby Lamar, Goodwin’s wife, who interested me the most. (I found it interesting that Benbow’s sister is so outraged by his putting Ruby up at their parent’s empty house, and carrying on about her low moral character, a streetwalker and a bootlegger’s woman.) I latched onto her from the beginning of the book as she observed the befuddled Horace Benbow who had just left his wife:
P. 13…She did not go out onto the porch. She stood just inside the door, listening to them talking, listening to the stranger talking and to the thick, soft sound of the jug as they passed it among themselves. “That fool,” the woman said. “What does he want…” She listened to the stranger’s voice; a quick, faintly outlandish voice, the voice of a man given to much talk and not much else. “Not to drinking, anyway,” the woman said, quiet inside the door. “He better got on to where he’s going, where his women folks can take care of him.”
“He’s crazy,” the woman said, motionless inside the door. The stranger’s voice went on, tumbling over itself, rapid and diffuse.
“Then she was saying ‘No! No!’ and me holding her and she clinging to me. ‘I didn’t mean that! Horace! Horace!’ And I was smelling the slain flowers, the delicate dead flowers and tears, and then I saw her face in the mirror. There was a mirror behind her and another behind me, and she was watching herself in the one behind me, forgetting about the other one in which I could see her face, see her watching the back of my head with pure dissimulation. That’s why nature is ‘she’ and progress is ‘he’; nature made the grape arbor, but Progress invented the mirror.”
“He’s crazy,” the woman said inside the door, listening.
“I just wanted a hill to lie on, you see. Then I would be all right. When you marry your own wife, you start off from scratch…maybe scratching. When you marry somebody else’s wife, you start off maybe ten years behind, from somebody else’s scratch and scratching. I just wanted a hill to lie on for a while.”
“The fool,” the woman said. “The poor fool.”
The more she heard of his story, Ruby went from calling him a fool, to crazy, then back to a fool… a poor fool because of his confused attraction to his stepdaughter.
It’s an exquisitely complex human document filled to the brim with flawed humans. Reading Faulkner is always a pleasure, his story telling voice comes through for me, loud and clear.