To the Editor,
As a former Island resident, and now part-time summer one, I found myself thinking, as of late with all that’s going on in the world, of my time with one of the Island’s own, William Styron, who sadly left us some time ago.
Not many writers have captured the darkness of man and made us feel a part of it better than Pulitzer-prizewinning author Styron, one of the bold and brawny literary greats of an era that has since gone by.
I was cleaning the house, my typical Saturday routine, when I noticed the books on the corner shelf. I hadn’t cleaned there in a while, and was inwardly mortified, seeing the layer of dust. I walked over and knelt, looking at all of his together on the bottom, thinking I might reread one. Like many of us, I’ve found myself searching for an escape from all that’s going on in the world. I thought I’d found it, but the morning following a glass or two of a beautiful red blend or a savory Cabernet has become unfriendly. I pry out the last book in the corner, and brush off the cover. Remembering my days on Martha’s Vineyard and in Roxbury, Conn., with Mr. S. makes me smile. “The Confessions of Nat Turner,” I read aloud, thinking this may not be the escape I was looking for.
I thought of Mr. S. the other day. I always referred to him as Mr. S. and not Bill, like the others, when I worked for him. I sat down on the sofa and opened the cover, seeing his signature, tracing the W with my finger. I remembered first reading it on those wintery nights in his home in Roxbury. I’d sit across from him in the oversize armchair in the great room. Sometimes there would be a fire in the enormous floor-to-ceiling fireplace surrounded by shelves upon shelves of books. I closed my eyes, picturing myself there again, the smells and the sounds. He’d read his New York Times, occasionally looking up at me. I felt odd reading his books in front of him. I forgot how that happened, and am unsure how I didn’t realize what an interesting experience it was at the time, but it eluded me.
“How is it?” he grumbled, peering over the paper, reaching down to pat Lady Bird, his dog.
He was a man of few words unless he wrote them, and “Nat Turner” was his prizewinning novel. I wasn’t sure what to say, feeling caught off-guard.
“I think you must know it’s good,” I answered, wishing I could come up with something more profound.
“Must I?” he replied, lifting his paper, shielding his face.
I thought of his other books. I’d read nearly all of them, sitting next to him on those cold, quiet nights in Connecticut, and then on the Vineyard when summer came. It was easy to become lost in all that he wrote. His work shared a common theme; it was dark. He seemed entranced by the darkness of the human spirit and the atrocities it caused. He wrote about the Holocaust, suicide, and depression. In the early 1990s, he was arguably the most famous depressed man in the world at one time, after penning his memoir “Darkness Visible” about his battle with the disease.
I lifted my finger from the page and closed the book, remembering the story and the man who wrote it. It has been nearly 200 years since Nat Turner, a Virginian slave, revolted with others alike. Two hundred years, and here we are still, with protests and riots erupting all over the country because people remain oppressed because of their skin color.
I wondered what Mr. S. would think about all of this. And what he’d think about all the darkness going on in the world. I wondered if he’d feel compelled to write about it if he were still here. I believe that he would. I put the book back on the shelf, thinking maybe I’d reread it another day. I missed those quiet nights reading in Connecticut and on the Island. Things seemed simpler then, but perhaps they never were.
Dianne C. Braley