I know this is old news from the first of November, but I had to write about it as soon as I got the chance. What made this news so eerie for me was that he died on the very day that I finished reading his first novel, Lie Down in Darkness.
I will never forget the first time I read his most famous novel, Sophie's Choice. I was living in Dearborn, MI and singing for a living in my own Top 40 cover band. I had recently lost my sons (for the second time) to my ex-husband and I was drinking way too much Jack Daniels every night at the gig. My local library was a 20 minute walk from my house and I would walk there as part of the exercise program I was doing at the time (called Thin Thighs in 30 Days, one of those little booklets you can pick up in the check-out lane at the grocery store and it really worked!) I had been reading all sorts of historical and romantic trash, the Barbara Taylor Bradford type of stuff. So it must have been the early 1980s when I stumbled across Sophie's Choice.
Sophie is a non-Jewish Holocaust survivor living in New York City with a totally crazed boyfriend and in the same apartment house as Stingo, an aspiring young author who falls hopelessly in love with Sophie. The book is so emotional, strange and dark. I had never read anything like it before that in my life, except for Thomas Hardy in college. It matched my mood because I was in despair about my children and there is a whole section in the book about what Sophie had to live through concerning her children. In any case, I was cured of reading trashy novels from that time on (except for during airplane trips) and re-introduced to literature for the first time since college.
Styron seems to have always caught hell from critics, which you can read all about by looking him up on Google. He also suffered from depression for much of his adult life (he lost his mother at 13, which fits my theory that people who lose their mothers early in life have something broken in them from then on), so was often ill, in and out of mental hospitals and a victim of psychiatrists. But he lived a fairly long life, had a loyal wife and raised children. Most importantly, he wrote amazing novels, the critics be damned. I say amazing because I think his fiction is real, not pretentious and though it is dark, he shows how people strive to find light in the darkness of their souls.