William Styron, R.I.P.


Belated obsequies for the Virginia-born heavyweight novelist, who I just learned died a few days ago. Styron's lifelong fascination with "the catastrophic propensity on the part of human beings to attempt to dominate one another" made him something of a kindred spirit back in my force-loathing salad days, and he became a hero to literary traditionalists (I'm not one of them) for steadily eschewing nearly every Modern and Post-Modern trick in the book. Sophie's Choice and The Confessions of Nat Turner, the two books out of Styron's slender oeuvre on which his reputation rests, would be enough for anybody to hang his hat on, but the controversies over those two books were also crucial to his significance. By weathering the idiotic storms about the right of a white man to write about slavery or a goy to write about the Holocaust—and in both cases to do so in a more oblique manner than traditional thinking about these catastrophes had usually allowed—Styron became a hero on the manner of Madonna: somebody who revealed what a fake concept authenticity really is. He's an icon of freedom in another manner: A lifelong depressive and legendarily functioning drinker, Styron was one of our greatest self-medicators.