Synopses & Reviews
Part memoir and part elegy, Reading My Father
is the story of a daughter coming to know her father at last a giant among twentieth-century American novelists and a man whose devastating depression darkened the family landscape.
In Reading My Father, William Styron’s youngest child explores the life of a fascinating and difficult man whose own memoir, Darkness Visible, so searingly chronicled his battle with major depression. Alexandra Styron’s parents—the Pulitzer Prize–winning author of Sophie’s Choice and his political activist wife, Rose—were, for half a century, leading players on the world’s cultural stage. Alexandra was raised under both the halo of her father’s brilliance and the long shadow of his troubled mind.
A drinker, a carouser, and above all “a high priest at the altar of fiction,” Styron helped define the concept of The Big Male Writer that gave so much of twentieth-century American fiction a muscular, glamorous aura. In constant pursuit of The Great Novel, he and his work were the dominant force in his family’s life, his turbulent moods the weather in their ecosystem.
From Styron’s Tidewater, Virginia, youth and precocious literary debut to the triumphs of his best-known books and on through his spiral into depression, Reading My Father portrays the epic sweep of an American artist’s life, offering a ringside seat on a great literary generation’s friendships and their dramas. It is also a tale of filial love, beautifully written, with humor, compassion, and grace.
"The youngest daughter of the late novelist William Styron fashions a conflicted, guarded, ultimately reverential portrait of a deeply troubled artist. Dogged all his life by depression which was not diagnosed properly until the devastating 1985 episode that later prompted Darkness Visible the Virginia-born Styron was a difficult man to live with. Novelist Alexandra Styron (All the Finest Girls) delved into her father's papers at Duke University, his alma mater, to uncover the life and work of a man she never knew growing up in their Roxbury, Conn., home, along with her mother, Rose, and three older siblings. Styron was an only child whose mother died of cancer when he was 13, a Marine in World War II who never saw combat, and an abysmal student; though he was also a charming ladies' man and published his first novel, Lie Down in Darkness, in 1952 at the age of 26, to great critical acclaim. The author was born just before her father finished his third novel, The Confessions of Nat Turner, in 1967, and was awarded the Pulitzer Prize; the anticipation of his next work 'like a constant drumbeat under everything we did' gripped her childhood, until Sophie's Choice was published in 1979. In this intimate portrait, William Styron emerges through his daughter's eyes as a towering talent who proves all too human. (Apr.)" Publishers Weekly (Copyright PWyxz LLC)
"Readers passionate about American literature will be fascinated by Alexandra's insightful tales about her complicated father and his circle, which included Peter Matthiessen, Norman Mailer, and Arthur Miller. Even more affecting is Styron's candor about how startling discoveries led her from anger to understanding as she researched and wrote this exquisitely powerful portrait of her father, a seminal writer sustained and harmed by his all-consuming artistic imperative." Booklist (Starred Review)
"Ardent, sophisticated and entirely winning....Her touch throughout this memoir is quite fine and very sure. As tough as she is on her father, she sees clearly the better man he could sometimes be....This is a grown-up memoir, taut and true." Dwight Garner, New York Times
"Reading My Father is the memoir of a childhood in an intellectually glittering, artistically engaged and emotionally precarious household. In this portrait, by turns tender and unsparing, we meet William Styron, the charming bon vivant undone by depression, the gifted and prolific writer whose long struggle to finish his final novel may have imperiled his sanity. Fluid and fascinating, dark and funny, Alexandra Styron's book brings her father before us in all of his complexity, a literary lion, roaring his way through America's post-war landscape." Geraldine Brooks, author of March and People of the Book
"William Styron's autobiographical writings were both candid and withholding, and this penetrating memoir shines light on what they left out; it does so with tenderness and compassion. This would be a bracing examination of the father-daughter relationship even if its suffering hero were not famous."Andrew Solomon, National Book Award-winning author of The Noonday Demon
"By turns brilliant and shocking....Alexandra Styron's account of...the slow dawning of the severity of her father’s condition is handled with great skill." New York Times Book Review
"Alexandra Styron's account of her father is clear-eyed, frightening, and compassionate: an often lyrical view of Styron's struggle with despair, writing, and living. She is unsentimental about the toll his depression and alcoholism took on his work, and even less sentimental about the damage it did to his family. William Styron was a great writer and complex person; his daughter does him justice." Kay Redfield Jamison, Ph.D., author of An Unquiet Mind and Nothing Was the Same
"Reading My Father is a beautiful, utterly absorbing portrait of the artist, and moving proof of how his youngest daughter grew up to become a writer who would make her father proud." John Burnham Schwartz, author of The Commoner and Reservation Road
Reading My Father is an intimate, moving and beautifully written portrait of the novelist William Styron by his daughter, Alexandra Styron.
About the Author
ALEXANDRA STYRON is the author of the novel All the Finest Girls and a graduate of Barnard College and the MFA program at Columbia University. Her work has appeared in The New Yorker, The New York Times, Vanity Fair, Financial Times and the Wall Street Journal, among other publications, and she has taught memoir writing in the MFA program at Hunter College. She lives with her husband and two children in Brooklyn, NY.