I have a mere 30 pages left in Alexandra Styron’s READING MY FATHER, and I know I’m going to be sad when it’s over. The best kind of book, right? It’s been a pleasure following Alexandra’s journey to solve the mystery — and he was a mystery to her — of who her father was, of what made him tick, of how he wrote and failed and succeeded and worried. Of how he barely survived madness, only to succumb to it in the end.
I’m not going to share many details of the book. I don’t want to spoil it. But I can’t help but share a few sentences as enticement for you to read this wonderful window into the life one of the greatest writers of the 20th century.
William Styron, on writing a long novel: “Writing a long novel, as I’m doing, has an overpowering effect on the psyche. There’s so much of it … so much that’s almost bound to fall short of your lofty aims that, if you’re at all serious, you end up existing in a perpetual state of sweat and melancholy and quasi-alcoholism. In effect, it’s a perfect symbol of one’s own strengths and weaknesses as a human, and I can only console myself with the rather feeble notion that perhaps, after all, this is all a novel is supposed to be.”
On William Styron, “in the zone” of writing: Artistically, the late seventies were really good years for my father. Entrenched in SOPHIE’S CHOICE, he was making art, piling up pages every day. But that ‘zone’ in which he operated necessitated complete focus; every minor irritation was a potential threat to production.
On the surprising success DARKNESS VISIBLE, his memoir of depression: Every once in awhile, a writer touches on a truth that, somehow, has not yet been expressed. Like a magic trick, his ink reveals a panel of human experience felt everywhere but, until illuminated by the writer, was never before truly seen. Such was the case with DARKNESS VISIBLE.
On page 225, I found his music. In the midst of his first true bout of depression (circa 1985), Alexandra and her family were so desperate to reach him they made a film of home videos set to his favorite music — Mozart’s Sinfonia Concertante — which he listened to while writing.