From the reviews I'd read, I expected Alexandra Styron's memoir about her father, William Styron, to be a mean-spirited, vengeful portrait. The reviewers, William Styron defenders, emphasized the scenes in which Alexandra Styron showed her father's irrational rages at her small childhood peccadillos. When I read the book, I was surprised to find that her father's anger is not the dominant theme in the, but one thread in a balanced, sympathetic portrait.
Not that she doesn't express anger at her father's treatment of her. Styron does come off as a irritable, anger-prone man, distant from his children and abusive toward his wife, Rose Styron. Yet, his behavior doesn't seem that extreme. In fact, Styron reminds me of my own father, as I'm sure many will feel. Men, and fathers, of his generation were distant, punitive ogres. The only difference is that William Styron worked at home, while many of our generation's fathers traveled to work each day, returning in the afternoon as omnipotent, truculent kings whose space and psyches we children were forbidden to transverse.
One curious trait Alexandra does not explain; threoughout the book, especially when she is young, he calls her "Albert." Was this the expression of a desire for another son? The Styrons had one son and three daughters. This unexplained gibe strikingly shows the cruelty with which Styron at times treated his family. Again, though, this is a type of rough humor that men of his generation had.
The book is very readable. Alexandra Styron, a novelist herself, gives a vivid, novelistic portrait of a troubled family with a haunted, talented, sensitive father who reached the heights of fame only to crash into depression, Alexandra's unflinching look at her father's final years is excruciating, and does go too far. Yet, I couldn't turn away.