Places: Faultline

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

First published: 1982

Type of work: Novel

Type of plot: Social realism

Time of work: 1980’s

Asterisk denotes entries on real places.

Places DiscussedBenbow’s home

Benbow’s Faultlinehome. Arden Benbow’s house located in Topanga Canyon, a rustic community in the Santa Monica Mountains west of Los Angeles. Arden’s large, run-down house sits on a half-acre lot. Its lawn is worn down from constant use by her resident children and dogs. Behind the house is a small barn in which three hundred rabbits live when they are not in their tunnels. Behind the barn is scrubby land marked by meandering paths and evergreen trees–a play area in which children’s imaginations can expand.

Even with a busy metropolitan freeway only a few minutes’ drive from the house, the whole spread is a world away emotionally from both the area’s suburbia of “ticky tacky” houses and the faux estates of the newly rich. Its ramshackle condition shows and symbolizes Arden’s lifestyle. As a poet and lesbian, and in other ways, she does not fit society’s image of an ideal mother.

The house and surrounding area are where Arden can feel most herself. In her scale of values, it is an excellent place for children to grow up. Others feel differently. When Arden’s ex-husband challenges her for custody of their six children, he cites the barnful of rabbits as proof of her instability. A social worker sent to observe the children is won over by the lively and welcoming atmosphere and the children’s obvious well-being and gives Arden a glowing recommendation as a parent.

Ruby’s Campground and Trailer Park

Ruby’s Campground and Trailer Park. Small community in the northern Mexican state of Sonoma that shelters retirees and American travelers; owned by a former “showgirl” from the San Francisco dock district. In 1959, when Arden helps her frustrated Aunt Vi escape from a nursing home to tour Mexico, they and Maurio, an orderly and magician’s helper, stay at the campground for several weeks.

Ruby takes pride in running a clean and homey campground, where the electricity and sewage systems work reliably, unlike those in many parts of Mexico. The beach with its gazebo, and the homegrown mangoes and bananas, turns a stay at the campground into an almost idyllic low-budget vacation. It is Ruby’s warm and eccentric presence that makes the camp most memorable, however. Ruby and Aunt Vi spend long quiet afternoons there talking about gothic romances. Maurio and Vi practice weightlifting, and Arden assembles a working motorcycle out of discarded parts left at the campground by Youth for Christ bikers. When the private detective sent by Aunt Vi’s husband shows up, the laid-back atmosphere and Ruby’s force of personality start to transform him from an adversary into an ally of the group. Arden learns a “life lesson” from this in how to win over troublesome agents of the powers that be. Ruby’s Campground functions as a place for alternative lifestyles in an era when these were rare.

*San Andreas fault

*San Andreas fault. Geological faultline that runs nearly the entire length of California, near the state’s coastline, and is the cause of geological instability and major earthquakes. Arden attributes her offbeat interests and life course to her having been born on the San Andreas fault. As a child she feared the earth might open up anytime and swallow the Los Angeles area.

One chapter of Faultline, titled “A Geological Aside,” explains the role of the San Andreas fault in the big Southern California earthquake of February 9, 1971. The faultline, along with this earthquake, directly affects the story; Arden and her lover Alice huddle together during the earthquake’s aftershocks and first become intimate then. The faultline also serves as a diffuse metaphor for the strangeness of southern California life during the 1970’s.

BibliographyBann, Stephen. “Plots.” London Review of Books 4 (November 17, 1982): 22. Sees Faultline as a picaresque novel with an improbable plot. The satire is carefully calculated as part of an almost didactic tone of advocacy. The faultline promises eventual chaos and the rabbits suggest a family run wild, but Arden shows a new type of family in which various people live together happily in a kind of modulated chaos.Publishers Weekly. Review of Faultline, by Sheila Ortiz Taylor. 221 (January 1, 1982): 48. Lists main characters and considers the novel to be comic and entertaining.Small Press Review. Review of Faultline, by Sheila Ortiz Taylor. 14, no. 3 (March, 1982): 12. Praises novel as zesty, outrageous, and funny. Calls it a lesbian novel that takes the rest of the world in stride.White, Gail. Review of Faultline, by Sheila Ortiz Taylor. Small Press Review 14, no. 11 (November, 1982): 1. Sees the novel as a hilarious kaleidoscope exploring Arden Benbow’s life through the eyes of a variety of witnesses. States that it is a lesbian novel only in the sense that it features gay characters. White considers the sexuality and politics to be peripheral issues.
Categories: Places