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It does not Synerge: on Being Cheated Out of a Good Story
am 2. April 2000
In "Wild Palms" it was a manifest literary technique, but in "Sanctuary" it's a desperate attempt to weave together a story from different plotlines. I am a Faulkner buff, and have always felt tricked by this one: everything that goes on at "the house" prior to the "event" (I'm trying not to give too much away) is some of the master's best. It is a world apart, relating not to "the south", as some wrote, nor to any other referent world; its inherent danger and unexpectedness and possibilities depend on that. Halas, the story then focuses on the character that it ultimately chose for its true protagonist, a well-intentioned yet incompetent lawyer, and an uninteresting one at that. As soon as the narrative moves into the cities it looses its force, revived at times only by such comic giveaways as the provincial youngsters who frequent a brothel in Memphis, never realizing that they reside in another. I can almost imagine Faulkner cutting & pasting that from some draft, soberly thinking, "I got to liven this up a bit". And it goes from bad to worse. All that befalls Popeye after his last encounter with Red seems artificial; it recalls Hollywood's standards for treating villains, owing more to comodification of morality than to narrative integrity. Do we learn something about Popeye that makes him a more interesting character than in the first part? Hardly. Yet with all of that, the writing itself was rarely surpassed in American prose. Faulkner has that uncanny ability to get us involved in his nontransparent language all the while keeping it away from the fore, first and foremost using it to tell his story (as opposed to Joyce or Dickens). For that alone this book is a joy; but on the narrative scale one feels, ultimately, cheated out of a good story.