When Philip Caputo went to profile William Styron for Esquire in the mid-’80s, the two men had something to talk about other than writing—they were both Marines. Ultimately, though, writing occupied the heart of their discussion. Styron, author of the well-loved novels Lie Down in Darkness, The Confessions of Nat Turner, and Sophie’s Choice, was then working on a novel about World War II called The Way of the Warrior. He was notorious for long gaps between books and this one was turning out to be no different. But this one he never finished. The story you’re about to read is interrupted halfway through by Styron’s hospitalization for depression. A few years later, Styron instead published a fascinating account of his disease, Darkness Visible, a slim volume remarkable for its honesty and concision. Styron was candid about his illness with Caputo here in “Styron’s Choices,” which originally appeared in the December 1986 of Esquire and is reprinted here with the author’s permission. I hope you enjoy.
Twenty-four years ago, when I was a college junior with vague literary ambitions, a friend of mine and I were rummaging through a bookshop near the downtown campus of Chicago’s Loyola University. Weary of required readings—Milton, Pope, the Victorians—we were on the lookout for something too fresh and modern to have yet found its way into an undergraduate curriculum. At some point during our browsing, my classmate pulled two paperbacks from the shelf and said, “You’ve got to read this guy. He’s terrific.” The books were William Styron’s Lie Down in Darkness and The Long March.