Bookmarked in February

Bookmarked in February

Green brush surrounds Narcissus as he stares into a pool of water. A country lawyer revisits his hometown in Northern Mississippi. He stops for a drink. Across the spring a gangster, Popeye, watches his movements. Persephone wails as she is abducted by Hades and drug to the Underworld. Temple Drake bleeds in the backseat as the same man passes signs for Memphis. William Faulkner supposedly wrote this “potboiler” novel, Sanctuary, during a three-week period in 1929. According to legend, when Faulkner presented it to his publisher, his publisher exclaimed with horror: “Good God, I can’t publish this. We’d both be in jail.”

Sanctuary examines the rape and abduction of Temple Drake, a student of the University of Mississippi, and known socialite. Meanwhile, country lawyer, Horace Benbow defends a man unjustly accused of murder. While the novel’s portrayals of rape and sexual abuse are nauseating, Temple’s navigation of Memphis’ criminal underworld proves psychologically astute and riveting.

Throughout her abuse, Temple grows into her mantra, “I’m not here…This is not me.” Temple subverts herself and buries her trauma in order to better cope with her serious abuse. The view into her psyche is haunting. But to read Sanctuary is not only understand Temple, but to better understand the struggle of the victims of sexual violence everywhere.

Sanctuary is not for the weak of heart. The novel depicts various instances of rape, murder, poverty, psychological torment, and a lynching. But, for its literary merit, it is unmatched. Faulkner intertwines century’s old Greek myth with a southern setting in order to demonstrate the depravity of his own community during prohibition. The novel highlights problems that still persist throughout the world and so, Sanctuary helps us better understand how to address those problems—it helps us understand our culture and how we should operate in it.

The novel’s language is unmatched. The prose juxtaposes the beauty of written word with grotesque depravity, inherent in freewill. Thought not my favorite of his works, Faulkner’s Sanctuary is nonetheless deserving of your time and receives a perfect score from this reviewer’s first Sentinel book review.