Indie Next ListMay 2011
On one hand, this is a tremendously affecting biography of William Styron, gorgeously written, dramatic, insightful, and compassionate. On the other, it is Mad Men, all skinny ties, nipped waists, scotch in the afternoon, and torrid love affairs. That the younger Styron has managed to both shed a bright light on her father's career, from its rapid rise in the '50s to its dark decline as a result of profound depression, as well as to entertain with literary name-dropping and party tales is commendable. I loved it! -- Becky Dayton, The Vermont Book Shop, Middlebury, VT
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.
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.
Praise for Reading My Father: A Memoir…
“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
“Alexandra Styron is a natural writer, fluid and engaging… A consummate guide to her father’s tumultuous life. Styron fans will delight in this unique portrait of a true literary lion.”—Eric Liebetrau, Boston Globe
“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
“A gene has been passed from father to daughter. Alexandra Styron, a born writer, tells the story of her father and the price he and his wife and children paid for his gift. Hers is a shocking book, painful in its truthfulness and moving in the love that holds this remarkable family together as depression and darkness claim the great man who is the center of their lives.”—Mike Nichols
“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
“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
“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., Professor of Psychiatry, The Johns Hopkins School of Medicine and author of An Unquiet Mind and Nothing Was the Same
“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