William Styron was an American author most well known for his books Sophie’s Choice, Lie Down In Darkness and The Confessions of Nat Turner, which won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1968. Suicide Run has just been published, the only one of Styron’s works to be published posthumously, and it draws upon his experiences in the US Marine Corps in the Second World War and the Korean War.
Styron is one of my favourite American authors. I first came across him in a Paris Review interview (he is the only author to have been interviewed twice) and his gruff manner and world weary attitude instantly appealed to me. I started with his memoir of his experience with depression, Darkness Visible. Styron’s description of the bleakness of his mood, his suicidality and subsequent hospitalisation is extraordinarily brave and agonisingly truthful. Unlike many books dealing with this subject, I feel it accurately and movingly explains the inertia and hopelessness of living with depression.
The next book I chose was Lie Down In Darkness, Styron’s first novel published when he was just twenty-five. It is the story of Peyton Loftis, a psychologically damaged young girl, and her experiences with her emotionally dysfunctional Virginia family, which leads eventually to her suicide. The end of the book is an admirable example of stream-of-consciousness narrative and can be seen to be influenced by that other venerable Southern writer, William Faulkner.
I have not yet read Sophie’s Choice, which will be familiar to most people from the 1982 film version starring Meryl Streep, who won an Academy Award for her performance, Kevin Kline and Peter MacNicol. Nor have I read The Confessions of Nat Turner, which generated huge controversy at the time of publication due to the fact that Styron was a white man writing a first person narrative from the point of view of a black historical figure.
Suicide Run will definitely be added to “The Pile” but perhaps not for a while. “The Pile” has grown so big since Christmas – in danger of toppling off my bedside table – that I have had to turn it into two smaller piles!