Jessica's Reviews > Reading My Father

Reading My Father by Alexandra Styron
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Aug 23, 2011

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bookshelves: memoir, the-writing-life, found-in-the-swapshop

I heard Alexandra Styron read from her memoir recently at The Mount in Lenox, MA (Edith Wharton's home). She's an excellent speaker and it was a riveting hour. I was therefore very much looking forward to reading her book, which I'd by chance found on the Swap Rack at my local cafe.

The first half of the book (she read the 2nd chapter) does not disappoint. Alexandra's tales of researching her father through his letters and papers housed in the collection at Duke University, along with tales of growing up with him, the stories that he told her as a child--often quite scary--are very moving. But as she journeys in prose through her own adolescence and adulthood, the book becomes more about the daughter (she's the youngest of four) and less about the father and author. As Styron's depression overtakes him for a second time, Alexandra seems particularly ill-equipped to write about it and him.

There a is a page late in the memoir where Alexandra quotes her sister Susanna from her writing on their father's death. Her sister's writing feels much more incisive and sensitive than what we've been wading through.

The second half of the book feels gossipy, unenlightened: standard growing-up memoir material (too much about boyfriends, traipsing about on Martha's Vineyard). Perhaps she needed more distance than she had at the time of this writing. A complex, depressive, sometimes hurtful man, Styron evoked complicated emotions from his daughter, and I don't feel that she fully explores these.

Am I being unfair? I can't stand it when the mother or father in a memoir is referred to as Mommy or Daddy (The Color of Water is another example)...surely the son or daughter outgrew this appellation? Maybe not. Maybe Daddy was what she called her father all his life: but does the reader need to hear it too? Daddy grates.
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Reading Progress

08/23/2011 page 46
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08/26/2011 page 106
37.0% "first half of book is so much better than second..."
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Comments (showing 1-8 of 8) (8 new)

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message 1: by Meaghan (new)

Meaghan It sounds a lot like Dream Catcher by J.D. Salinger's daughter. Ever read that?

I've read the elder Styron's depression memoir. I keep meaning to read Sophie's Choice too, but my to-read list is very long.


message 2: by Jessica (last edited Aug 30, 2011 12:38PM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Jessica I haven't read 'Dream Catcher.' Do you recommend it?

Styron's an interesting author. I've only read the two you mention. I might read more of his novels now.

Interestingly, his daughter mentioned that he was very pained at the end of his life--with his second severe lapse into depression--that his book, 'Darkness Visible,' made it sound like he'd come out on the other side. He felt he'd misled readers, and felt very guilty. Of course, depression has in large part to do with feelings of guilt.


message 3: by Meaghan (new)

Meaghan I read Dream Catcher when I was like thirteen, shortly after it came out. I was not terribly impressed with it and found it hard to like Margaret/Peggy (the author). Her brother Matthew disputed her recollection of their childhoods.

I didn't review it, but here are two reviews that sound a lot like my own feelings for the book:
http://www.goodreads.com/review/show/...
http://www.goodreads.com/review/show/...

I suppose if I gave it another try I might like it more, now that I'm adult -- the book wasn't written for a 13-year-old audience after all. But I don't see the point, not when there are so many much more appetizing books to read.


message 4: by Jessica (last edited Aug 30, 2011 12:55PM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Jessica Well, from the two reviews, it seems Alexandra Styron is a better writer than Margaret.

As far as her brother's dispute goes: each child will have his or her own version of events. We experience our parents differently, and sometimes our parents are different: my brother, born 10 years after me, had a very different father from the one I grew up with (much less strict, but also less involved). His and my versions of events would not be the same. But neither would my sister's, who's only two years older than me...


message 5: by Sketchbook (new)

Sketchbook O Daddy, O Mumie! Ya know, I think there's less to Sty than meets the eye.


Jessica you might be right.
I did like 'Darkness Visible.'


Jody Just finished and you summed it up perfectly!


Jessica thank you Jody!

kind of you to say so! and I'm glad you feel the same.


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