William Styron (1925-2006), a native of the Virginia Tidewater, was a graduate of Duke University and a veteran of the U.S. Marine Corps. His books include Lie Down in Darkness, The Long March, Set This House on Fire, The Confessions of Nat Turner, Sophie's Choice, This Quiet Dust, Darkness Visible, and A Tidewater Morning. He was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, the Howells Medal, the American Book Award, the Legion d'Honneur, and the Witness to Justice Award from the Auschwitz Jewish Center Foundation. With his wife, the poet and activist Rose Styron, he lived for most of his adult life in Roxbury, Connecticut, and in Vineyard Haven, Massachusetts, where he is buried.
Nearly 40 years ago, Styron published his first novel, Lie Down in Darkness , which revolved around the suicide of a young woman, Peyton Loftis. Now, he tells the short but very moving story of the deep depression which nearly overcame him in the summer of 1984. A successful middle-aged writer at the peak of his powers and acclaim, Styron was--seemingly inexplicably--struck by insomnia and a growing sense of malaise leading to hopelessness. He consulted a psychiatrist and was given high doses of the controversial drug Halcion for his insomnia, but his despair continued to increase until one evening he actually attempted suicide, only to be rescued by the playing of Brahms's Alto Rhapsody in a video he was watching. He immediately had himself hospitalized, and after several weeks in the security and healing atmosphere of the hospital began to feel himself again. Expanded from a 1989 Vanity Fair article, this book is highly recommended. Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 5/1/90.-- Marcia G. Fuchs, Guilford Free Lib., Ct.
A meditation on Styron's ( Sophie's Choice ) serious depression at the age of 60, this essay evokes with detachment and dignity the months-long turmoil whose symptoms included the novelist's ``dank joylessness,'' insomnia, physical aversion to alcohol (previously ``an invaluable senior partner of my intellect'') and his persistent ``fantasies of self-destruction'' leading to psychiatric treatment and hospitalization. The book's virtues--considerable--are twofold. First, it is a pitiless and chastened record of a nearly fatal human trial far commoner than assumed--and then a literary discourse on the ways and means of our cultural discontents, observed in the figures of poet Randall Jarrell, activist Abbie Hoffman, writer Albert Camus and others. Written by one whose book-learning proves a match for his misery, the memoir travels fastidiously over perilous ground, receiving intimations of mortality and reckoning delicately with them. Always clarifying his demons, never succumbing to them in his prose, Styron's neat, tight narrative carries the bemusement of the worldly wise suddenly set off-course--and the hard-won wisdom therein. In abridged form, the essay first appeared in Vanity Fair. (Sept.)