Tag Archives: William Styron

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.

A Styron On Styron

A memoir by Alexandra Styron is soon to be released, and I just pre-ordered my copy — my hardback (non-Kindle) copy — from Amazon.com.  Being the Styron addict I am, I’ve been dying to read this book since the minute I heard she was writing it.

In this month’s Vanity Fair, you’ll find an excerpt of what appears to be an unflinching account of real life in the Styron household.  It was tough for me to read.  The book will be tough, too.  Because while I’m certainly aware of William Styron’s struggle with depression and drinking, it’s quite another thing to see it there on the stark white page, from his daughter’s vantage point, where it will, I know, break down my iconic image of the handsome, always brilliant, always charming, perfect man, writer-hero I’ve held in my mind’s eye for so, so long.

Still.  I can’t wait for the mail lady to drop that book, plop, on my doorstep.  I promise you I will toss aside whatever I’m reading — yes, even you, Gustave Flaubert! — and start in on this one the minute I unwrap it.

Styron’s daughter is an accomplished author in her own right.  When I read her bio today, I was imagining what it might have been like on the first day of her MFA program at Columbia, going around the table for introductions.

“I’m Alex Styron.  Hi (slight fingers wave), and I live in Brooklyn.  Did my undergrad at Barnard.”

“Styron.  Cool.  Any relation to William Styron.”

“He’s my father.”

(stunned silence)

Okay, maybe it didn’t really happen like this.  But can you imagine writing with this kind of legacy?  Though from this Vanity Fair excerpt — and another article I read of hers in The New Yorker a few years ago — I’d say she’s doing just fine, following her own path.  How brave.

P.S.  While fishing around the Vanity Fair site, I also found this 15 minute audio from 1958:  Styron reading from LIE DOWN IN DARKNESS, which he wrote at age 25.  Twenty-five — that’s about how many times I’ve read the opening sequence of this book to see how it works.

A writing question for Maya Angelou & William Styron

In The Paris Review Interviews, v. IV here are two very different answers to a common writerly question:  “Where/when/how do you write?”

Maya Angelou (1990):  Morning.  She rents a hotel room and goes there everyday to start writing by 6:30 a.m.  She lies across the bed and gets started.  She asks the hotel personnel not to change the sheets because, after all, she’s not ‘sleeping’ there.  She insists things are taken off the walls.  No distractions.

William Styron (1954):  Afternoon.  He sleeps in because he likes to stay up late and get drunk.  The only time left is the afternoon, with a hangover.

We really are a quirky bunch of folk.