A couple of notes on Faulkner’s Sanctuary

Before (and shortly after) I started reading Sanctuary, I had a lot to say about it. I’d heard it was very unlike the rest of Faulkner’s work, and I knew about the rape part. I was expecting quite the scene, but it’s not there, and I think that’s why I have so little to say: the first third, or so, is really engaging and scary and frustrating, but then it gets boring. Here’s a short synopsis that probably leaves most of the important plot points out: A wayward teenager runs off with her boyfriend, and he gets drunk and strands her out in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by men who can’t control themselves, she’s raped, someone else is killed, and another guy ends up facing a death sentence. The girl runs off with a creepy old man and stays in a whorehouse for a while, and some other craziness happens, and another guy gets killed. Then more of the like happens. The end. It’s like a pulp novel.

That said, parts of it are beautifully written. Here’s the first paragraph of Chapter 16:

On the day when the sheriff brought Goodwin to town, there was a negro murderer in the jail, who had killed his wife; slashed her throat with a razor so that, her whole head tossing further and further backward from the bloody regurgitation of her bubbling throat, she ran out of the cabin door and for six or seven steps up the quiet moonlit lane. He would lean in the window in the evening and sing. After supper a few negroes gathered along the fence below–natty, shoddy suits and sweat-stained overalls shoulder to shoulder–and in chorus with the murderer, they sang spirituals while white people slowed and stopped in the leafed darkness that was almost summer, to listen to those who were sure to die and him who was already dead singing about heaven and being tired; or perhaps in the interval between songs a rich, sourceless voice coming out of the high darkness were the ragged shadow of the heaven-tree which snooded the street lamp at the corner fretted and mourned: “Fo days mo! Den dey ghy stroy de bes ba’ytone singer in nawth Mississippi!”

I love it! The end is really nice, too.

Besides the first third and the occasional nice language, Sanctuary seems pretty forgettable, unlike Sound and the Fury or As I Lay Dying – even Absalom! Absalom! is more interesting, and I didn’t particularly like that one. That said, I have a similar relationship with Faulkner as I have with Whitman: I outright hated him for a while, but then I reread Sound and the Furyand really liked it.

I think I liked the beginning of Sanctuary because it’s so un-Faulknery in that I can see the first half of the novel happening in Haughton or some other terrible little place around here, and that was fascinating. The rest, though, seemed removed in the same way something like the trial in To Kill a Mockingbird – like it couldn’t happen now. Maybe I got confused about how time works in Sanctuary, or something, but it kind of just turned me off. It could also that it took me almost a month to read it because since the semester started, I’ve usually only been reading just before bed.

Speaking of bed, I’m glad I finally finished it: I had a terrible dream last night. I don’t remember the whole thing, but I had to go to the doctor, and the two ladies in the whorehouse were deciding when I was going to go, and it was somehow terrible. I was half awake, staring at my clock for a good ten or twenty minutes before I finally convinced myself that I don’t need to go to the doctor and that they have nothing to do with my life. I really hate dreams like that, and it took me a long time to get back to sleep.

Okay. I realize that in all this talk, I haven’t really said much about Faulkner or about his novel, and I think it’s because, at this point, I’m almost entirely disinterested. I’m forgetting it already. It could, of course, have something to do with the fact that I read the last hundred and fifty pages or so in a codeine cloud (it was cough syrup!), and now, I’m really really tired.

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