Next up in my reading during recuperation from back surgery was Alexandra Styron's Reading My Father, due out shortly from Scribner. I was lucky enough to score an Advanced Review Copy (ARC) at the Ipswich Book Nook's grand opening. I was even luckier to have time to read it.
I perused an excerpt from this book in the New Yorker a few months ago, and realized then I didn't know much about William Styron, the author's father, or about the author, herself, who has also published the novel All the Finest Girls. Her memoir about his life and her own is a beautiful, bittersweet tale that tells the story of a brilliant and troubled writer and father. His novels included Confessions of Nat Turner and Sofie's Choice, which won him acclaim as well as criticism. His story of going through a serious clinical depression and coming out the other side alive, Darkness Visible, brought him acclaim and appreciation of a different kind.
Alexandra is the youngest child of four, with an eight-year gap between her and her next elder sibling. She was alone with her cantakerous father much of the time she was growing up, and I suffered her wincing at his tirades right along with her, at the same time understanding how she longed for his approval and love.
Many famous personalities - writers, musicians, politicians - were friends of the family. People like Leonard Bernstein, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Mia Farrow, and Bill Clinton were guests at their dinner table. Her mother Rose forged her own life while still staying close to her difficult husband. The author researched her father's unpublished writings and early correspondence at the Duke University Library so she could write honestly about the long stretch of his life before she was born and through her younger childhood.
I found this book painful to read, not in the writing but in the continued theme of a man so obsessed with his own career that everyone around him suffered a great deal for a long time. Alexandra's writing is clear, lyrical, and honest. It moved me through her father's life with ease and tears. I urge you to find it and read it. Me, I'm going to find her novel and then look for his.