Darkness Visible - A Memoir of Madness by William Styron. Random House, New York, 1990

Reviewed by John A. Speyrer

Novelist William Styron's (author of Sophie's Choice) book recounts the author's struggle with severe depression, thoughts of suicide, and eventual recovery. The short (eighty-four pages) book offers few or no insights.

In fact, Styron writes that medication, psychotherapy and hospitalization were really of no value in the lifting of his depression.

He hospitalized himself, contrary to the advice of his psychiatrist who warned of the social shame which he would bear after confinement. It was the hearing, on television, of a portion of Brahms' Alto Rhapsody being sung - the same portion of a piece that his mother used to sing - that made him abandon any consideration of suicide.

Though the author does recognize that even his very early writings of the lives of his fictional characters reflect his own inner feelings, no real insight is displayed as to why and how the two are related.

However, there are some telling words in the book, which, if interpreted from a primal/traumatic birth point of view, hints of a possible ultimate explanation of the author's melancholia.

Styron writes that the experience of deep depression is indescribable but the closest he can come is that it ". . . is mostly connected to drowning or suffocation."

Another telling reference is his acknowledgment that suicide was a persistent theme in his novels. He writes of ". . . passages where my heroines have lurched down pathways toward doom."

A more compelling death during birth metaphor does not exist.