A Memoir Of Madness
Styron tells of his descent into clinical depression, later hospitalization, and recovery. Much of this slim (96-page) work appeared last year in Vanity Fair magazine. In 1984, Styron's 30 years of alcohol and more recent excessive tranquilizer intake (Halcion) combined to make alcohol poisonous to his system and deprived him totally of his friendly balm, the alcohol that he says allowed him to open up his works as a clear mind never could (he adds that he never wrote while drinking). Shortly thereafter, he went into depression, which he thinks may or may not have been tied in with going cold turkey off booze. He puts forth various genetic hints (his father had "battled the gorgon for much of his lifetime") and suggests buried childhood events to explain the origins of his illness. His depression would sweep over him late in the day, just at the time of the afternoon nap he could no longer achieve and apparently just before the hour of the first drink that he could no longer have. The depths of his depression carried him far beyond alcohol withdrawal and pill poisoning, Styron says. In general, the tour of the depression he renders is gripping, though simply as writing it could have done with more intense immediacy and searing detail. It's best when dramatizing a deepening stage in the illness, and it comes to a high point when Styron decides to kill himself and throws his private diary into the garbage. By then we are convinced that his illness is as he says, "so overwhelming as to be quite beyond expression." Only various lines from Dante, he thinks, come near to showing his experience. He admires his wile Rose for standing by him at his most obliterated, and we get a sense of uplift when his hospitalization and new drug begin to take hold. His scathing review of antidepressants seems just. Each victim of depression is unique, and we feel that Styron has shown us--in large strokes without getting as razor-edged as Robert Lowell--as much of his black pit as he can bear to show.