Styron, Set to Mozart …

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.

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13 thoughts on “Styron, Set to Mozart …

  1. Laura

    I love it when a book is so good I have to force myself to slow down and conserve the remaining pages.

    Love this:

    “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.”

  2. Deb

    ‘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.’

    This would be my grandest wish as a writer.

    1. Teri Post author

      This was such an excellent read. What an insight into William Styron’s mind while working, and not working, his illnesses and paranoia, all couched in his desperation to write “big books” with “big themes.” The pressure he put on himself to perform. And, of course, the toll this took on his family life.

      Plus, interestingly, some of her words and phrasing are SO MUCH like her dad. Her word choices. Just freaky. (in a good way)

    1. Teri Post author

      Stop-Time … love love love. You would love Sophie’s Choice. People see it as only a “holocaust book” or about her one particular choice, but those are really NOT what the entire book is about. It’s a journey. A journey I take about every 2 years.

      In Joan Didion’s book (The Year of Magical Thinking) she talks about her her husband standing in their swimming pool, re-reading Sophie’s Choice to see how it works. It’s also that kind of book, one that a writer would read to wonder, “how in the hell did he do this?” And it’s phenomenal from a story-telling perspective.

      1. amyg

        i forgot about joan dideon talking about her husband reading sophie’s choice. such an image, all these epic literary figures makes my head swirl.

        the cover picture alone makes me want to be part of that world. (70s, wood paneling, william styron, dinner at elaine’s, parties at nan talese’s, long flowy dresses that you could wear to the grocery with macrame halter top tops…YES YES YES)

  3. Lyra

    Macrame halter tops…you had me at hello.

    Teri, I love how you open my eyes to so many things outside of my normal TBR list. Thank you.

    And these quotes, oh these quotes. I am a sucker for quotes in which I see something I’ve been trying to think no less say, and there it is spelled out so simply and succinctly.

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