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Big Books Reviews

Darkness Visible: A Memoir of Madness

Big Books Issue 2001

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By Eileen Murphy | Posted 9/26/2001

William Styron

At the start of this Memoir of Madness, novelist William Styron is about to receive the prestigious Prix Mondial del Duca. That event, which should have been one of the high points of his literary career, instead marked the onset of a crippling depression that nearly drove Styron to take his life. This extraordinary slip of a book (the paperback is only 84 pages) looks at the condition from the inside: Although Styron provides a surprising amount of information on the biochemistry of depression, his most valuable contribution to writing about the disorder comes from his eloquence and honesty in talking about his feelings of worthlessness and fear. Although critics referred to this 1990 book as an "essay," it contains the elements of dramatic fiction, with readers alternately empathizing with and fearing for Styron as he struggles with his depression. In the end, his simple decision to seek help provides the book's climactic closing.

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