DARKNESS VISIBLE

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.

Pub Date: Sept. 4, 1990

ISBN: 0679643524

Page Count: 84

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: Oct. 5, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 1990

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If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.

THE 48 LAWS OF POWER

The authors have created a sort of anti-Book of Virtues in this encyclopedic compendium of the ways and means of power.

Everyone wants power and everyone is in a constant duplicitous game to gain more power at the expense of others, according to Greene, a screenwriter and former editor at Esquire (Elffers, a book packager, designed the volume, with its attractive marginalia). We live today as courtiers once did in royal courts: we must appear civil while attempting to crush all those around us. This power game can be played well or poorly, and in these 48 laws culled from the history and wisdom of the world’s greatest power players are the rules that must be followed to win. These laws boil down to being as ruthless, selfish, manipulative, and deceitful as possible. Each law, however, gets its own chapter: “Conceal Your Intentions,” “Always Say Less Than Necessary,” “Pose as a Friend, Work as a Spy,” and so on. Each chapter is conveniently broken down into sections on what happened to those who transgressed or observed the particular law, the key elements in this law, and ways to defensively reverse this law when it’s used against you. Quotations in the margins amplify the lesson being taught. While compelling in the way an auto accident might be, the book is simply nonsense. Rules often contradict each other. We are told, for instance, to “be conspicuous at all cost,” then told to “behave like others.” More seriously, Greene never really defines “power,” and he merely asserts, rather than offers evidence for, the Hobbesian world of all against all in which he insists we live. The world may be like this at times, but often it isn’t. To ask why this is so would be a far more useful project.

If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 1998

ISBN: 0-670-88146-5

Page Count: 430

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 1998

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The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the...

NIGHT

Elie Wiesel spent his early years in a small Transylvanian town as one of four children. 

He was the only one of the family to survive what Francois Maurois, in his introduction, calls the "human holocaust" of the persecution of the Jews, which began with the restrictions, the singularization of the yellow star, the enclosure within the ghetto, and went on to the mass deportations to the ovens of Auschwitz and Buchenwald. There are unforgettable and horrifying scenes here in this spare and sombre memoir of this experience of the hanging of a child, of his first farewell with his father who leaves him an inheritance of a knife and a spoon, and of his last goodbye at Buchenwald his father's corpse is already cold let alone the long months of survival under unconscionable conditions. 

The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the sphere of suffering shared, and in this case extended to the death march itself, there is no spiritual or emotional legacy here to offset any reader reluctance.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2006

ISBN: 0374500010

Page Count: 120

Publisher: Hill & Wang

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2006

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