In 1985 William Styron fell victim to a crippling and almost suicidal depression, the same illness that took the lives of Randall Jarrell
, Primo Levi
and Virginia Woolf
. That Styron survived his descent into madness is something of a miracle. That he manages to convey its tortuous progression and his eventual recovery with such candor and precision makes Darkness Visible
a rare feat of literature, a book that will arouse a shock of recognition even in those readers who have been spared the suffering it describes.
From Publishers Weekly
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.
Copyright 1990 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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