Read This

A  change of pace with a quick book review.  I was an avid reader for many years until I went to law school.  There all desire to read was smothered under an avalanche of five pound legal textbooks.  Only recently, ten years later, has my thirst for reading fully dug itself out and I’ve been reading for the pleasure again.  The last book I read was Sanctuary by William Faulkner.  While at it’s core it is a pulp detective novel, this was a very difficult book for a few reasons.

First, Faulkner’s ability to play with narrative structure, many characters, and his occasional stream-of-consciousness style don’t necessarily lend themselves to straightforward storytelling.  Things are happening, but you are not always quite sure what it is.  The first few chapters introduce a bevy of characters and the descriptions of the goings-on at the old farmhouse are a whirlwind, especially those involving the ever-increasing terror experienced by Temple Drake as she moves about the farmhouse, leading up to her rape.

Second, this is a difficult novel because it is so dark in its themes.  In addition to the rape of Drake, there are several deaths, deceit, and other examples of the worst sides of human nature.  Even the nominal hero, lawyer Horace Benbow, is trying to leave his wife.  The bootlegger that Benbow is defending against false accusations of murder is convicted when Temple, who has been thoroughly corrupted after being forced into prostitution in Memphis, lies about the murder to amazingly save her rapist, Popeye.  The townspeople do not wait for the sheriff to carry out the death sentence, instead they burn the bootlegger alive.  Faulkner does not allow the real killer to escape, but it is not justice in the absolute sense.  Popeye is falsely accused himself of killing a man and is hanged.  Interestingly, it is only the last chapters that he introduces the background of Popeye and sheds light on why Popeye is the cold-blooded man that commits the terrible acts earlier in the book.

Given all that, this was a wonderous read.  Faulkner’s use of language is amazing and his descriptions of people and places really make you feel like you are watching them.  Having just read two Hemingway books which are marvelous in the short direct prose he used, the stream-of-conscious  and flowing paragraphs of Faulkner were quite a change.  Also amid the depravity and debauchery, there are moments of humor.  A chapter describing the travel of two rural country boys to the big city of Memphis has the boys being scared off from the more expensive hotels and Faulkner has them end up staying at a whorehouse, which they obliviously think is a boardinghouse.  They even go to other houses of ill repute seeking companionship and hilariously lie to the madame of their “hotel” about where they’ve been.

I would definitely recommend this book to anyone, as long as you are prepared to delve into the dark side of the human condition.

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