Darkness Visible: A Memoir of Madness by William Styron [in Library Journal]
A full decade has passed since William Styron (Sophie’s Choice, The Confessions of Nat Turner, As I Lay Dying) died at 81 in 2006. He might have died 21 years earlier by suicide, but he escaped that “near-violent dénouement.”
With raw, unflinching openness, Styron shared his torment and recovery, first at a 1989 symposium lecture at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, then in a Vanity Fair essay, and, finally, here, originally published in 1990.
Surviving modern hell – Styron’s title comes from John Milton’s description of Hell in Paradise Lost – helped to place Darkness among the “Modern Library 100 Best Nonfiction Books.” Styron’s calm, controlled voice reads his own words – defining depression, listing suicides, explaining alcohol and prescription drugs, and exposing ineffective protocol. He is not without a bit of self-deprecating humor when dismissing the efficacy for him of group therapy and art therapy during his lifesaving hospitalization. To hear Styron so plainly and painfully articulate one of life’s most haunting experiences is both unsettling (because he’s now dead) and inspiring (because he lived).
Verdict: Recommended for libraries working to make an important, modern classic even more accessible to wider audiences. With the tragic rise in youth suicides, YA readers could also benefit.
Published: 1990 (original hardcover); 2016 (audible)