Andre Dubus III's House of Sand and Fog
"House of Sand and Fog," by Andre Dubus III, explores the catastrophic repercussions of a complex misunderstanding between three characters. The conflict initially involves a dispute between Kathy Nicolo and Massoud Behrani over the “rightful” ownership of a house. The county wrongfully evicts Kathy and Behrani then buys her house at an auction. When Deputy Sheriff Lester Burdon enters the situation, events quickly slip out of control. Superficially, Lester’s character is important to the novel because he acts as a catalyst, propelling the plot into unexpected action. But Lester impacts the novel in a more profound way, because were it not for his insecurity and selfishness, the rest of the characters could have been spared an avoidable tragedy.
Lester’s commitment to help Kathy at all costs undeniably alters the outcome of the novel. By providing her with money for a motel, and later with shelter at a friend’s cabin, he allows her to continue avoiding the reality of the situation. If Lester had never met Kathy, she would have been forced to be upfront with her lawyer. Instead, Kathy tells herself “there a limit to how much [her lawyer] wants to help,” and continues to tell Connie Walsh that she is staying with friends (88). Knowing the severity of Kathy’s plight could have prompted Connie Walsh to more ardently pursue the county on Kathy’s behalf. Because of Lester, however, the truth is kept from the lawyer.
Additionally, although proclaiming his love for her, Lester becomes a negative influence on Kathy. Under the false sense of security he provides, Kathy, a recovering alcoholic, allows herself to start drinking again after an abstinence of three years. Though Lester’s concern for the return of her house is evident through his later actions, his concern for her psychological well-being seems non-existent. He never questions her sudden return to alcohol and fails to notice her growing dependence on it. If Lester had caught the warning signs—Kathy smoking profusely “as a crutch” and feeling “jittery” when she needs more alcohol—if Lester had recognized these symptoms, perhaps he would have realized Kathy’s current mental instability (145). But Lester overlooks this side of Kathy and is unable to check her usage. As a result, drunk and desperate at a restaurant in the mall, Kathy is convinced that Lester will return to his family and leave her, only after making love “to [her] like a man taking in oxygen before he goes on a long underwater trip” (202). In her impaired state, Kathy drives to her father’s house, now occupied by the Behrani family, and attempts suicide twice. When Lester arrives at the house and spies Kathy passed out on the floor, he assumes the worst and breaks into the Behrani’s house, holding them hostage. This starts a chain of events that ends with the Behranis and their son dead and Kathy and Lester in prison.