A Very Brief Appreciation of William Styron, and Another Jane Lane

I was sorry to read last night that William Styron had died. I have to admit that I found his Lie Down in Darkness a bit overwrought, and I can’t remember if I ever read The Confessions of Nat Turner, but I thought Sophie’s Choice was a wonderful novel, with one of the best closing lines I’ve ever read: “This was not judgment day–only morning. Morning: excellent and fair.”

I was fortunate enough to see William Styron speak at my college many years ago. He spoke a little bit about himself, saying that he was “not glib,” and he read a very funny chapter from Sophie’s Choice, where the callow hero Stingo, going to date a Jewish girl for the first time, is much taken aback to find that her father is a worldly art collector instead of the pious, insular Old World figure Stingo had expected. Indeed, perhaps one of the best achievements of Sophie’s Choice is the ease with which the tragedy of Sophie is blended with Stingo’s often comic misadventures. (The earliest pages, where Stingo describes his job as a slush-pile reader for a publisher, are among the funniest I’ve ever read.)

So, a morning toast to the memory of William Styron.

On another note, I finished reading The Young and Lonely King, a 1969 historical novel by Jane Lane, last week. Just a word in case anyone decides to reissue this novel; it may have one of the worst titles I’ve ever seen. Not only does it lack shelf appeal (“Wow! A novel about a young king! And he’s lonely!”), it also is the sort of title that likely will lead anyone seeing it in a reader’s hand to conclude that the reader isn’t a barrel of fun either. (Passenger on airplane seeing fellow passenger holding The Young and Lonely King: “Well, at least she probably won’t talk throughout the whole flight.”)

Title aside, I enjoyed this novel about Charles I. Unlike The Severed Crown, which was told by multiple narrators, this is a third-person narration that begins with Charles I’s childhood and ends at a high point in his life; the birth of a son to Henrietta Maria. Not action-packed, it’s essentially a story of Charles’s developing character and centers around his relationships: with his parents, his siblings, his friend Buckingham, and finally with his temperamental wife. Lane has a sardonic, yet compassionate narrative voice and a sharp eye for character; James I is especially memorable. There’s even a rather sweet love story here: that between Charles I and Henrietta Maria, who start their marriage as an ill-matched pair and eventually fall deeply in love with each other. The scene where Henrietta Maria goes to comfort her husband after the death of Buckingham and says her first English words to him is especially good–moving, but not mawkish.

All in all, a book that whet my appetite for more Jane Lane.

By the way, you’ll notice a new poll in the sidebar. Did Richard III kill the little princes, or did someone else do the deed? Or were they not killed at all? You decide.

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