Darkness Visible: A Memoir of Madness

William Styron, Author
William Styron, Author Random House (NY) $15.95 (84p) ISBN 978-0-394-58888-9
Reviewed on: 08/01/1990
Release date: 08/01/1990
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.)
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