Darkness Visible: A Memoir of Madness by William Styron

The author wrote this short book, based on a 1989 lecture, years after the fame of Sophie’s Choice and The Confessions of Nat Turner made him a household name in literature circles.  I have not read either of the aforementioned books, nor am I sure that Styron will ever be an author that I will read voraciously.  But encountering his writing via this slim volume was well worth the experience, however harrowing the subject matter.

Styron writes unabashedly about his own bout with mental depression that began in his early 60s.  There is no sugarcoating here – he captures with amazing clarity his disillusionment with things once happy, the lack of connection, and the horrific sense of doom that defines severe depression.  It blew my mind that he had the courage to address head-on such a horrific time in his life.  

The author incorporates into his ruminations figures as diverse as Camus and Abbie Hoffman, among others – people who also suffered tremendously through depression and on occasion, took their own lives.  He doesn’t hold back in the casual observers who knew these people and completely dismissed what they were going through.  He also is quite vehement on the issues of medication, taking into account the prevailing attitudes on depression and medication during the late 1980s, when he went through his time with the illness. 

Despite the hard topic, the book is worth the read.  This is really my first exposure to Styron’s writing, which was brilliant.  Darkness Visible is brief (84 pages) and possibly, cathartic.  

(William Hicks, Information Services)

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One Response

  1. When I was reading “bipolar bare” by Carlton Davis Styron was who came to my mind. Davis’ sentences are equally as evocative. His memoir is about growing up and living with bipolar disorder. It’s just great — he spares no details, with his drug use and sexual proclivities and deviations (both of which are symptomatic of the disorder). There’s a split between the protagonist and his muse, “Carlotta,” that’s just brilliant. It adds a whole other facet to the book and allows the reader to get a look at this illness, understand it, from dual perspectives.

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