THIS QUIET DUST

A generous but only sporadically impressive sampling from the noted novelist's occasional non-fiction over the past 20 years: book reviews, magazine articles, eulogies, commencement addresses, and other speeches. Styron's fiction following will be most interested, of course, in his reflections on the genesis of Lie Down in Darkness and Confessions of Nat Turner—along with an introduction that (echoing a few autobiographical pages in Sophie's Choice) bristles over some critics' historical/moral objections to Nat Turner. (In a James Jones eulogy, too, Styron lashes out at critics—"book-review hacks from Kansas City, lustful uptown votaries of Lionel Trilling.") There are brief tributes to Bennett Cerf, Philip Rahv, and Robert Penn Warren, longer ones to Fitzgerald ("the splendid equanimity, the compassion and humor, the love" in his letters) and to Thomas Wolfe—for his influence on a generation of writers, for his "clear glimpses . . . of man as a strange, suffering animal alone beneath the blazing and indifferent stars." Less persuasive are Styron's meditations on the Holocaust (which seem strangely obsessive in their emphasis on the not-just-Jewish nature of German war crimes), his reportage from 1968 Chicago, his quasi-defense of Norman Mailer re the Jack Abbott affair. (Styron, after writing an anti-death-penalty piece for Esquire—reprinted here—became involved in a somewhat similar embarrassment.) And along with sturdily balanced views of military matters in reviews of books on MacArthur and Vietnam, there are a couple of less predictable entries: a Nile travel-piece (brooding over tourism) and a 1961 paean to a camp-cult bio of Errol Flynn's last mistress. Very little that's fully developed or strongly involving, then—but, with a few autobiographical tidbits too (including a charming item about not winning a Rhodes scholarship), this potpourri will only be mildly disappointing for those who admire Styron's tough/sentimental/righteous blend of viewpoints.

Pub Date: Nov. 30, 1982

ISBN: 0099285541

Page Count: 344

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: Oct. 5, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 1982

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IN MY PLACE

From the national correspondent for PBS's MacNeil-Lehrer Newshour: a moving memoir of her youth in the Deep South and her role in desegregating the Univ. of Georgia. The eldest daughter of an army chaplain, Hunter-Gault was born in what she calls the ``first of many places that I would call `my place' ''—the small village of Due West, tucked away in a remote little corner of South Carolina. While her father served in Korea, Hunter-Gault and her mother moved first to Covington, Georgia, and then to Atlanta. In ``L.A.'' (lovely Atlanta), surrounded by her loving family and a close-knit black community, the author enjoyed a happy childhood participating in activities at church and at school, where her intellectual and leadership abilities soon were noticed by both faculty and peers. In high school, Hunter-Gault found herself studying the ``comic-strip character Brenda Starr as I might have studied a journalism textbook, had there been one.'' Determined to be a journalist, she applied to several colleges—all outside of Georgia, for ``to discourage the possibility that a black student would even think of applying to one of those white schools, the state provided money for black students'' to study out of state. Accepted at Michigan's Wayne State, the author was encouraged by local civil-rights leaders to apply, along with another classmate, to the Univ. of Georgia as well. Her application became a test of changing racial attitudes, as well as of the growing strength of the civil-rights movement in the South, and Gault became a national figure as she braved an onslaught of hostilities and harassment to become the first black woman to attend the university. A remarkably generous, fair-minded account of overcoming some of the biggest, and most intractable, obstacles ever deployed by southern racists. (Photographs—not seen.)

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 1992

ISBN: 0-374-17563-2

Page Count: 192

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 1992

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DEAR MR. HENSHAW

Possibly inspired by the letters Cleary has received as a children's author, this begins with second-grader Leigh Botts' misspelled fan letter to Mr. Henshaw, whose fictitious book itself derives from the old take-off title Forty Ways W. Amuse a Dog. Soon Leigh is in sixth grade and bombarding his still-favorite author with a list of questions to be answered and returned by "next Friday," the day his author report is due. Leigh is disgruntled when Mr. Henshaw's answer comes late, and accompanied by a set of questions for Leigh to answer. He threatens not to, but as "Mom keeps nagging me about your dumb old questions" he finally gets the job done—and through his answers Mr. Henshaw and readers learn that Leigh considers himself "the mediumest boy in school," that his parents have split up, and that he dreams of his truck-driver dad driving him to school "hauling a forty-foot reefer, which would make his outfit add up to eighteen wheels altogether. . . . I guess I wouldn't seem so medium then." Soon Mr. Henshaw recommends keeping a diary (at least partly to get Leigh off his own back) and so the real letters to Mr. Henshaw taper off, with "pretend," unmailed letters (the diary) taking over. . . until Leigh can write "I don't have to pretend to write to Mr. Henshaw anymore. I have learned to say what I think on a piece of paper." Meanwhile Mr. Henshaw offers writing tips, and Leigh, struggling with a story for a school contest, concludes "I think you're right. Maybe I am not ready to write a story." Instead he writes a "true story" about a truck haul with his father in Leigh's real past, and this wins praise from "a real live author" Leigh meets through the school program. Mr. Henshaw has also advised that "a character in a story should solve a problem or change in some way," a standard juvenile-fiction dictum which Cleary herself applies modestly by having Leigh solve his disappearing lunch problem with a burglar-alarmed lunch box—and, more seriously, come to recognize and accept that his father can't be counted on. All of this, in Leigh's simple words, is capably and unobtrusively structured as well as valid and realistic. From the writing tips to the divorced-kid blues, however, it tends to substitute prevailing wisdom for the little jolts of recognition that made the Ramona books so rewarding.

Pub Date: Aug. 22, 1983

ISBN: 143511096X

Page Count: 133

Publisher: Morrow/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Oct. 16, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 1983

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