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From Darkness to Life

By Elaine Cassel

William Styron (author of Sophieís Choice and The Confessions of Nat Turner) suffered from suicidal depression in 1985. His Darkness Visible ( Vintage, 1992/1998) is an elegant memoir of his journey from that darkness to the reaffirmation of life.

Styronís spare prose is unsparing in its depiction of the pain of depression at its worst, which he describes as being as real as any bodily suffering. So vivid are the details that readers may flinch as they follow Styron on his grim journey.

Styron makes it clear that without hospitalization, medication, and the unwavering devotion of his wife, he would never have made it to the other side. In this respect, the account is comforting, yet also troubling. Comforting because we know that progress is possible, but troubling because we realize how many resources one needs to overcome grief so great that suicide beckons as a welcome release.

One of the bookís most poignant passages is Styronís description of hearing one of his favorite pieces of classical music that led him to reverse his course. He realizes that to continue with his meticulous plan to end his life forecloses him from hearing those or similarly cherished sounds again and experiencing the exquisite emotions that they bring. This awareness leads him to further consider the finality of the nothingness he had so long sought, and to consent to hospitalization.

Although the book does not specifically entreat sufferers to seek help, Styronís account is proof that one can make it through the night of despondence and hopelessness into the light of purposeful living. Darkness Visible is informational, yet inspiring; chilling, yet compelling. Anyone who has been the victim of depression, or has a close friend or family member in its grasp, should read this brief, beautiful account of one manís journey. Read itóthen give it to someone you love.

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