on March 25, 2010
It's been nearly 13 years since I last saw William Styron and almost four years since his death. Styron was at a book signing at The Maple Leaf Book Store in New Orleans, along with Willie Morris. That must have beeen around 1993, for Styron autographed his new "Tidewater Morning" for me, as well as an early edition of "Lie Down in Darkness." Both men had well known James Jones, James Baldwin, Peter Mathiessen, George Plimpton, Lillian Hellman, and the other American expatriate writers who before the arrival of the Beats in Paris constituted something of a "Second Lost Generation". The frequent at least twice-a-month letters from Styron Jr. to his father describe his nascent college career, his entry and discharge (and recall to) the US Marine Corps. Most importantly, they describe the gestation of what many consider Styron's greatest novel, "Lie Down In Darkness", his first, published within months of Jones' breakthrough "From Here to Eternity." These were among the great and powerful novels of the 1950s which will endure for some time. This magnificient job of editing and production by LSU Press certainly sheds light on Styron's development as a writer. What we do not see in the letters is any kind of description of the plot or characters in "Darkness." Styron is holding his cards very close to his chest. It is not until 1967 we see Styron's "The Confessions of Nat Turner", prior to "Set This House on Fire", an account of the frolics of the American exiles on the French Riviera, and later, "The Long March" and his memoir of the severe depression that late in life plagued father and son, "Darkness Visible." This is amongst the most significant introspections of one of the 20th century's greatest writers, and the American writers in France in the 1950s, since Kaylie Jones' "Lies My Mother Never Told Me." A future volume is to contain selected letters to others.
on April 13, 2011
Reading Styron's letters to his father, written during his youth, gives one a sense of how both the writer and the man matured. The letters are certainly of "academic" interest, but they also reveal a relationship between father and son that is quite moving. The two men shared great love and great respect for one another.