From Publishers Weekly
I was aware that this was a contraband item under the embargo against Cuban goods and that the embargo had been promulgated by the very man who had just pressed the cigar into my hand, writes Styron about John F. Kennedy in the title essay of this fine new collection of mostly previously published work. Combined with Styron's muscular yet subtle language, a sense of self-revelation and insider clarity infuses the 14 essays like a lungful of fresh, crisp air. Mostly assembled by Styron shortly before his death in 2006, these perfectly crafted and deeply expressive essays range effortlessly from smoking the aforementioned stogies with JFK to his run-ins with editors during the editing of his first novel, Lie Down in Darkness
. In one essay he describes a visit to Marilyn Monroe's grave with noted literary hellion Terry Southern: he was scowling through his shades, looking fierce and, as always, a little confused and lost but, in any case... like a man already dreaming up wicked ideas. Styron is known to most readers for his bestselling novels and painful etching of his bouts with crippling depression in Darkness Visible
. These essays open up an entirely new territory to explore and appreciate for the fan and general reader alike. (Apr.)
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In his last year Styron (1925–2006) was working on a retrospective collection of personal essays from the 1980s and 1990s, a project subsequently completed by his widow, Rose. The result is an exhilarating parade of pithy, wry, and revealing true tales that remind us with a jolt of just how spirited, incisive, and spit-shined a writer Styron was. A southerner and the grandson of a slave owner, he joined the marines at 17, published his first novel at 26, chafed at being hailed as an heir to Faulkner, and stirred up considerable controversy with The Confessions of Nat Turner (1967) and Sophie’s Choice (1979). In his essays, Styron is strategically charming. The collection’s curious title is plucked from an arresting remembrance of President John F. Kennedy and his passion for Cuban cigars. Styron also pays piquant tribute to Mark Twain, Truman Capote, and James Baldwin; praises walking as a catalyst for creativity; and tells harrowing, hilarious, and socially incisive tales about a youthful medical scare and a trip to Chicago to visit Nelson Algren, whose idea of fun was a tour of Cook County Jail’s Death Row. Beneath the wonderfully diverting dazzle of his wit and virtuosity, Styron addresses crucial matters of freedom, art, and empathy. --Donna Seaman