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Lie Down In Darkness (Vintage Classics) [Paperback]

William Styron
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
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Book Description

3 Aug 2000 Vintage Classics
In this novel, the South looms dark and ominous in the background with its Biblical rhetoric, its conflict between a tradition of religious fundamentalism and modern scepticism, racial contrasts and the industrialisation of a rural society. But more than a novel of time and place, it is the story of a tormented family submerged in infidelity and driven by a vengeful love that is blocked, hurt and perverted. Peyton Loftis, who frantically needs a husband precisely because she loves her father; the decadent Milton, whose infidelity has made his marriage no more than a stage drama; and Helen, his wife, who loves only what she can control - her crippled daughter Maudie, or the childish part of her husband. This extraordinarily powerful novel is the portrait of a family who, in the words of Sir Thomas Browne in his URN BURIAL, 'all lie down in darkness'.

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Product details

  • Paperback: 400 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage Classics; New Ed edition (3 Aug 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0099284995
  • ISBN-13: 978-0099284994
  • Product Dimensions: 19.4 x 13 x 2.6 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 544,227 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description

From the Back Cover

With the publication in 1952 of his first novel, Lie Down in Darkness, William Styron, author of Sophie's Choice, was catapulted into the front ranks of post-war American writers, achieving immediate international recognition.

In this novel, the South looms dark and ominous in the background with its Biblical rhetoric, its conflict between a tradition of religious fundamentalism and modern scepticism, racial contrasts and the industrialisation of a rural society.

More than a novel of time and place, it is the story of a tormented family submergerd in infidelity and driven by a vengeful love that is blocked, hurt and perverted: Peyton Loftis, who frantically needs a husband precisely because she loves her father; the decadent Milton, whose infidelity has made his marriage no more than a stage drama; and Helen, his wife, who loves only what she can control.


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Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars flawed but brilliant 5 April 2007
By Gibblet
Format:Paperback
First novels are always interesting I think, and this is no exception. The prose is meandering and beautiful, though always well pitched. Styron is a master of the written word and hits exactly the right note again and again.

Arguably, some of the devices used to paint a picture of the Loftis family are manipulative and simplistic. One of Loftis and Helen's daughters, Maudie, is simple minded and she is therefore an ideal canditate for the love Helen who is religious, doting and a martyr. Then there is Peyton. Maudie's polar opposite, beautiful, precocious and challenging, she inspires the love of her weak, flawed and complex father and the hatred of her mother. In a union of two such divergent characters, it would be amazing if there wasn't conflict in the event of such contrasting offspring and the use of such extremes is not subtle. However, Styron fully makes up for this with the complexity of his characterisation and the use of lots of subtle detail. The genius is that Styron himself never takes the moral highground. The reader must be the judge.

In the last section we are given a stream of consciousness narration by Peyton of her last hours before suicide. It is some of the most beautiful and haunting prose I have read, and it is the believable product of a terminally damaged mind. Her obsession with such details as a clock and the birds that seem to be following her around are rendered in disturbing and believable detail. There are obvious nods to the characters of Quentin and Cady in The Sound and the Fury and it is hard not to see this novel as unashamedly derivative. Rather than being a criticism, I would say that in Lie Down in Darkness pays beautiful hommage to Faulkner and at times he even surpasses him. Though this lacks the taughtness and polish of his later novels, I think it is his masterpiece.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars desperate and abysmal 7 Nov 2005
Format:Hardcover
Incredibly well written; anguish and pitiful, futile and petty people in this claustrophic record of the history of a family disaster.
Told with love and bitterness this is an unhappy story. Not for the overly optimistic. Styron has a gift for spreading characters out, showing their best, worst and mundane moments. An intimate relationship where too much faith is likely to be punished.
The whole world crushed into one house (or crushed out). Original and expert.
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Amazon.com: 4.0 out of 5 stars  61 reviews
119 of 129 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Lie Down In Darkness perfects Southern Gothic 17 May 2000
By Glenn W. Wall - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
Lie Down In Darkness, Styron's first novel, published when he was just 22, is a masterpiece of psychological realism and storytelling in the Southern Gothic tradition of Faulkner, Eudora Welty, and Flannery O'Conner. That it was created by such a young mind is testament to the author's genius; that it has yet to be rivaled as a stirring, oftentimes painful and disturbing portrait of a doomed family, is testament to the writing. Composed with thick, purposeful prose, heavy on similie, metaphor and description, the novel charts the rise and fall of the Loftis Family, an archetypal rendering of the Soutnern Gentry. We follow the tragic downfall of Milton, the drunken patriarch, Ellen, the frigid mother, and the two Loftis daughters, one born perfect, one born crippled. It is a novel of abundant ontological truth, which will reach in and strangle the unconscious sensibilities of almost any reader, regardless of background or predispotition. The novel's beauty ranks with the prose of Lawrence, the passion of Rimbaud and Kundera, the depth and spiritual metaphysics of Doestoyevsky; It is both story and case study. And ultimately we are shepherded through tragedy after tragedy into the climax--the suicide of the immeasurably beautiful and desired Peyton Loftis--as we walk moment to moment with her, peering inside the poisoned stream of consciousness that overwhelms and eventually claims her. Lie Down In Darkness belongs in the canon of Great American Masterpieces. It's significance has only begun to be understood.
76 of 84 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A sad but affecting book 15 April 2002
By Patrick Meehan - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
William Styron is likely the greatest novelist no one has ever heard of. His name is even less recognizable than Faulkner's, or other great American writers: Steinbeck, Hemingway, etc. And yet, in my opinion, his works are far superior. With only four novels to choose from out of his career he has made it very difficult for himself to be regarded in those terms, but he has still achieved a wide amount of critical acclaim, with a Pulitzer Prize and an American Book Award to his credit.
His novels are not light novels. They are not coffee table books, but a rather serious discussions on moral issues written with an eloquence that is unmatched in modern writing.
Lie Down in Darkness is his first novel, and is much like what I have just said. As a first novel it is necessarily experimental, although the effect of this experimentation is at times hard to tell.
Following through flashback the trials of one Virginia family on the day of their daughter's funeral, Lie Down in Darkness leads up to the present, describing in tragic terms how the family has come apart and where it is now.
This is great writing, some of the best writing I have ever read, as realistic as any Dickens novel, and as engaging as anything by Baldwin.
It is not a happy book, but it is the best book I have read about the American family, far greater and relevant than anything I have read by Morrison.
80 of 90 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Darkness and despondency, all in one story 15 July 2000
By S. DEMILLE - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
William Styron, in Lie Down in Darkness, tells the story of Peyton Loftis, the beautiful daughter of Helen and Milton Loftis, her ultimate suicide, and her family's contribution to her fate. Sad, yet compelling. As I read, my revulsion for the characters grew line by line, for they are wasted, empty, and they drown themselves in a swamp of despair and impotency. Helen is a vindictive, jealous mother who takes painful jabs at anyone in her path; Milton is an incestuous alcoholic who can't own up to his failures and who is stuck in a sort of paralyzed stupor; and Peyton, well, she is a genetic carryover of her parents-from her mother she learns revenge, and from her father, alcoholism.
The story is one of severe despondency, a portrait of lives that have lost their savor and are headed toward destruction. Of all the characters in the story, the Negro house servants come forth as the strongest. They have a spiritual strength that contrasts strongly with that of the Loftis.' The overwhelmingly best quality of the book, I believe, is the beauty of the prose. It's like an epic poem, lyrical and dramatic and sweepingly colorful. And, believe it or not, I actually enjoyed Peyton's stream-of-consciousness marathon just before she killed herself. Styron made it enjoyable and I will always remember the flightless birds and how they follow Peyton all over New York and also the $39.95 clock that Peyton perceives as her refuge from the evil world. Is this what mental illness is really like? This book is certainly one to be read again.
20 of 20 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Beautiful, wrenching, impossible to put down. 30 Dec 1997
By catbutt@ix.netcom.com - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
Never have I wanted to pound some sense into fictional characters as when I read William Styron's Lie Down in Darkness. The Loftiss family saga is sometimes hard to read because they hurt each other so easily and so often. But Styron's language is beautiful, and his understanding of the characters is deep. The account of Peyton's last day is especially heartbreaking and revealing. In short, this novel is one of my favorites simply because of its account of human frailty and the amazing way in which the story is told. Styron is one of the best.
19 of 21 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Sad, painful, beautiful ... 21 Nov 2009
By Caitlin Martin - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
I recently managed to make it all the way through Sophie's Choice, a book I had attempted to read in college and hadn't had the maturity to finish. I loved it on my recent read so I thought I should return to Lie Down in Darkness, another book I hadn't been able to complete.

This is a very good, if not great, novel. It is also very depressing. I remember it being so depressing that I just couldn't get through it the first time (and my memory was good). All the same, the writing is beautiful and the characterizations clear and sad. In a sense, this novel is a lyrical essay on Tolstoy's quote about unhappy families from Anna Karenina: "Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way."

The novel opens on Peyton Loftis' body returning to her family on the train from New York after her suicide. Styron ranges back and forth in time and point of view throughout the novel in presenting the causes of Peyton's depression and suicide.

Peyton Loftis is the template for a particular kind of doomed Southern girl - beautiful with Daddy issues and a dozen bad habits, the kind of girl certain kinds of boys fall in love with but never marry. She is in some ways a very old-fashioned character - very much of her own generation. Reading her will make you grateful that our mothers' generation fought the feminist battles and gave us options beyond attending Sweet Briar and marrying the first fraternity boy that crossed our path. I think it's a wonder more intelligent and creative women didn't cut their own throats in the public square out of sheer boredom.

I'd like to say that all the changes in the status of women in the last 50 or so years have made the Peyton Loftises of the world obsolete, but that would be untrue. There are still plenty of boxes for both women and men to be confined to and political and societal change don't necessarily eliminate them.

I'm glad I made it through this one this time. It is, as I said, a good novel. I can strongly relate to all the flavors of despair that Styron depicts and truly felt the presence of his own depression throughout the novel. Styron is wonderfully flamboyant with language and character, even when weighed down with his own demons.
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