Sophie's Choice

by William Styron

The first thing I like about this book is its super '70s cover (I picked up a vintage used paperback), but I'm a little bummed out going into it because I know the plot from having seen the film. Another thing I know about this book going into it is that William Styron credits a dream with the inspiration to write this story. Apparently, he awoke from a dream & sketched out the main plot points!

A caption on the cover of my copy reads, "A novel for everyone." Unless this is a Bantam Books trademark catchphrase of some sort, it is absolutely an out & out lie. The C-word is thrown about liberally here, as well as C-sucker, the F-word, etc. There are more than a couple of graphic sex scenes too and plenty discussion of masturbation. Plus there's this whole heavy-duty plot element of the "choice," per se, that is way too intense for "everyone." I am here to tell you that Sophie's Choice is most definitely NOT a novel for everyone.

Things I like about this book: Styron's vocab is immense! Benison, vicissitude, parturition, surfeit, perdurable, limn, cerement—just to name a few...literally. Just the individual act of reading this book will increase your word power. Also, this is the first time on the list (in reverse order, remember) that we come across a book that offers labored description of absolutely every little thing with which the story is concerned (and even elements that would normally fly under the radar of an author). A certain shade of paint, the back-story of lesser characters, the minutiae of an incidental setting. Sophie's Choice is not a small book (my paperback runs 626 pages), & it is packed with precise, wordy, near-infinite description. A real change in writing style from the four books that precede it here. Styron describes the manner in which he goes about writing a book as "painstaking," and he claims that it took him five years to write this one. It shows!

Now, what I don't like so much about this book: The protagonist and the author appear to one & the same! I know they say, "Write what you know," but this is a little ridiculous. (See The Sheltering Sky for comparison.) Here now, I present a handy chart for your reference on this matter, & YOU be the judge: How autobiographical is Sophie's Choice & how much less a work of fiction does that make it?



Name is 6 letters long & begins with the letters "St"? Yes Yes
Born & raised in Virginia? Yes Yes
As a young man, spent a brief, unhappy tenure in the publishing field? Yes Yes
Writer in pursuit of "The Great American Novel"? Yes Yes
Lived in a boarding house in Brooklyn one summer just after the war? Yes Yes
A beautiful, but war-ravaged holocaust survivor lived upstairs from him there? Yes Yes
In love with his father? Yes Yes

The plethora of similarities begs other questions, like: Is William Styron as abjectly horny as his protagonist? Did it really take him well into his 20s before he got laid? And is sex all he ever thinks about? Really, this is what half this book is about.