Thursday, November 02, 2006

Sophie's Choice

Novelist William Styron died yesterday at the age of 81. He was one of the grand old men of American lit, the post-WWII lions like Norman Mailer, Kurt Vonnegut, Gore Vidal and Saul Bellow. The New York Times has an obituary by Christopher Lehmann-Haupt, with links to original reviews of his books.

[Update Nov. 3 - The NY Times book reviewer, Michiko Kakutani, has "An Appreciation" of Styron in today's paper.]

Sophie’s Choice (1976) is Styron’s best-known book, thanks to the 1982 film version starring Meryl Streep and her much-satirized Polish accent. But it may also be his best book too, winning an American Book Award and being chosen as one of the Modern Library’s Top 100 Novels of the 20th Century. Picking the book from the shelf today, it has the look of a mid-seventies potboiler a la Harold Robbins, frilly font and all. And it is a massive tome, over 500 pages, matching that decade's excess! But unlike much of the fiction of the era Styron wrote about Big Ideas - slavery in The Confessions of Nat Turner (1969) and the Holocaust in Sophie's Choice.

If you want a good read you can sink your teeth into, with a fairly traditional structure (ie. naive outsider tells tragic story as in The Great Gatsby), you haven't seen the film and thus have no idea what Sophie's terrible choice is, then give it a try.


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