30 June 2010

William Styron's Darkness Visible


A couple days ago I was looking through my mom's bookshelf for a break from my school readings, and what caught my eye was William Styron's account of suicidal depression. He doesn't make it sound like much fun. Hearing people I know talk about going through depression but having never experienced anything remotely like it myself, I've always been intrigued by depression. The 80-page book does a great job of provoking empathy, but Styron keeps enough analytic distance between himself and the subject that he never becomes pitiful or melodramatic. It's not the most spectacular book, but it gets the job done. It's gripping but not harrowing, which fits its message: Styron is trying to raise awareness of depression's poignancy while also giving hope that it can be overcome. The prose is solid: usually simple, easy to read, easy to understand. Drawing on his extensive knowledge of literature and philosophy, the best lines are quotes of classic literary figures. Though it gives Styron's own personal story and is careful to document the idiosyncrasies of the illness, the book aims to be a description of something that has affected many people. To a large extent, he succeeds. I also got what I wanted from the book: the narrative was gripping so I read it in less than two nights, and had my eyes opened to something I'd been almost completely in the dark about before.

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