Kirkus Reviews QR Code
HAVANAS IN CAMELOT by William Styron Kirkus Star


Personal Essays

by William Styron

Pub Date: April 15th, 2008
ISBN: 978-1-4000-6719-0
Publisher: Random House

Slim but substantial gathering of personal pieces by the late novelist and memoirist.

Not long before he died, Styron (1925–2006) began assembling this collection, a task completed by his widow Rose and biographer James L.W. West III. Several pieces appear here for the first time; all bear the hallmarks of Styron’s better work: fresh language, self-deprecation, unpretentiousness, wry liberalism, candor and, at times, an anger burning like magma beneath a deceptively placid surface. Most originally appeared in the 1990s; they deal with subjects as varied as the obsession for cigars that permeated the JFK Administration (the title essay), a bout with syphilis (sort of) in the Marines, walks with his dog, the importance of libraries, urological problems. This last subject provides one of his best lines: “I declared to the bishop that the nonexistence of God could be proved by the existence of the prostate gland.” There are some pieces about experiences with other writers, including a liquor-soaked cross-country train ride with Terry Southern and his long friendship with James Baldwin. Styron (A Tidewater Morning: Three Tales from Youth, 1993, etc.) praises the work of some contemporaries, most notably Norman Mailer, James Jones and Truman Capote. (Styron confesses to jealousy when he first read Other Voices, Other Rooms.) A swift tribute to Mark Twain points to some similarities. Both grew up near rivers (Styron by Virginia’s James), and both, in Huckleberry Finn and The Confessions of Nat Turner, touched the most sensitive of American nerve endings. Styron ruminates about his boyhood diary—why wasn’t he reading more, he wonders?—slams Disney for their planned Virginia theme park, has kind words for the French and recalls in several pieces his work on his first novel, Lie Down in Darkness (1951). He also toys with the very funny image of assorted solemn intellectual figures—Oliver Wendell Holmes, Thomas Mann, Immanuel Kant—in jogging attire.

A poignant reminder of the power and appeal of a voice now silent.