Warning: May contain spoilers
Questions and Topics for Discussion
1. Consider Alexandra's place in the Styron family as the youngest child. Could any of her older siblings have written this particular memoir? Or do you think Alexandra witnessed a different side of her parents?
2. Reading My Father is largely about the way Alexandra gets to know her own father. However, it also details the complex relationship between William Styron and "Grandpop." What did you make of this relationship? How was your reading of their bond affected by Grandpop's lack of correspondence and his remarriage?
3. Discuss Styron's depression. Do you believe it was caused by an inability to write, or was he not able to write because of his mental afflictions?
4. Do you think it is possible to achieve familial closure through an epistolary study? Does Alexandra's reading of her father's letters and papers help her piece together his character?
5. How did you reconcile William Styron's volatile nature with his otherwise warm and peaceful sensibilities? Did the author's research help bring the two sides into sharper focus?
6. Based on his letters, what do you think was Styron's most formative experience as a young author? Consider his time in Philadelphia, his short service in two wars, his romances, and his integration into the literary intelligentsia following the release of Lie Down in Darkness.
7. Discuss Styron's years in Europe, especially the Prix de Rome. How did these years affect his character? Consider his marriage to Rose, meeting Truman Capote, and the many artists he encountered during this time.
8. How did you see "Albert's" growth into an adult throughout the narrative? Did "reading her father" lend to some form of closure or understanding?
9. Were you surprised to learn of William Styron's infidelities? How did they change or add to your perception of him as both an author and as a character?
10. What did you make of Norman Mailer's vicious attack on William Styron's body of work? In your opinion, was the reaction part of the literary competitive environment of the time, or was it more personal? Knowing Styron to have thin skin, do you believe his critics and opponents were part of his psychological demise?
11. Discuss the Styron family's various retreats and vacations. What effect did each of these places seem to have on William Styron's disposition? How do you relate these locales to his writing?
12. Would you characterize William Styron's life as a "war story?"
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From the May 2011 issue of O, The Oprah Magazine
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