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When Did You First Meet William Styron?
on April 24, 2010
I first met William Styron when a mutual acquaintance - Sophie's Choice - introduced us at The Modern Library's list of Top 100 Novels. I bumped into him later with his friend Darkness Visible at The Modern Library's list of Top 100 Non-Fiction Books. I thought I knew him by the time he told me all about The Confessions of Nat Turner.
And so it was that I chose to meet him again on A Tidewater Morning at my local Salvation Army bookstore. My cost of admission was $0.25 and I decided to meet him again because his alma mater, Duke University, won the 2010 NCAA Basketball Championship.
Styron's an interesting dude. Both he and his father suffered from depression and his mother died from breast cancer when he was 14. He was a Marine, an editor at McGraw-Hill, and once provoked an employer to fire him so he could write his first novel. He died from pneumonia in Martha's Vineyard at the age of 81.
Above the door to his studio he posted a quote from Gustave Flaubert: "Be regular and orderly in your life so that you may be violent and original in your work."
As I read the three stories that make up A Tidewater Morning I was struck by how unreal his descriptions, characterizations, and dialog were to my senses. Yet, it all works beautifully in the end. The greatest triumph of this book is the way these three stories create an arc of experience that rips your perceived ideas of meaning from the fabric of your life and then sews them back together with even stronger stitching because you made the effort to reach, and read, the title story.
I didn't think A Tidewater Morning compared very well to his other writings until I sat down to write this. But it does. I can tell you this because, although I've never literally met him, I feel now I've not only met him, but know him in a way that was impossible before reading this little book.
I'll tell you what. Let me know if you don't like this book. I'll gladly repay you the quarter I spent on it.
Here are the three most telling quotes from William Styron's A Tidewater Morning:
* "... whenever I was overtaken by a spasm of metaphysical creepiness, and the sheer unreality of this endless war enfolded me like a damp, mildewed shroud, I thought of my father ... How did he ever imagine that his son would grow up to be a killer, not only willing but eager to kill - to anticipate killing with crude, erotic excitement? - Love Day
* "`Death ain't nothin' to be afraid about,' he blurted in a quick, choked voice. `It's life that's fearsome! Life! ... When you're dead nobody knows the difference. Death ain't much.`" - Shadrach
* "Repeat these words after me. Are you listening? Although earth's foundations crumble and the mountains be shaken into the midst of the seas, yet alone shall I prevail." - A Tidewater Morning