The Suicide Run by William Styron

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The Suicide Run by William Styron

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Category: Short Stories
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: John Lloyd
Reviewed by John Lloyd
Summary: Five unconnected short works from this distinctive author, showing us insights into the Marine Corps life from the 1950s.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 208 Date: February 2011
Publisher: Vintage
ISBN: 978-0099532224

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A WW2 naval soldier, guarding a prison island for those found guilty at courtmartials, is forced to wonder if he is winning his own battles against those arriving and leaving. A soldier remembers calming memories, and those causing tension, as he rests up before action. And for a highly-charged young man, there may be too much risk to be found in his high-octane downtime.

Those are the heroes of the shortest three works here, leaving by far the majority of the book for you to explore. All the young men at the forefront of the stories are Marines serving in the Pacific during WW2 or Korea. All, with the craft of Styron's writing, are very vividly portrayed. All have complex attitudes to life, their work, their chances. And when you consider how much of this might be semi-autobiographical you will gain a further frisson, forcing these tales to stay with you for longer than you might at first assume.

I really enjoy the clarity of the writing here. Forget the attitude you might have about this author on hearing he wrote the Sophie's Choice novel, and dip into these pages, or especially The Long March, his short novel par excellence. These tales are from his archives - either rarely-seen short stories or extracts from novels he never finished. The footnote might make them sound as if they're scraped from the floor of the barrel, but it's some barrel.

If you could imagine an American Graham Greene, who went into the forces and not espionage, and who was exemplary at the first person narrative, you'd get close to Styron. There's such a depth to the characterisation and mood here, with doubt, guilt, bravado, lust and more to be felt by the heroes, who of course never fit any such token template. The writing is not all gung-ho by any means, but quite often rails against being "sissified" - just one of the brilliant words Styron uses here.

If anything, I'd be tempted to quote the fourth sentence of the title story, were it not for the blunt ending to it. I don't want the writing here to sound showy, for it is quite effortless, and with its grounding in the Pacific is quite educative, and gives a different tint to war fiction, being away from the European theatre us in the UK read about and learn about so often.

There is a small sense of the larger works, as parts of incomplete novels, being curtailed - you really do want to know about the returning soldier and the lass next door's prospects, while fearing they weren't that great. But they still cohere as narratives, and are only a little less enjoyable for their unusual conclusions. And any chance to read more Styron is one I welcome - and I think even this slight volume of miscellany will make many more think the same.

I must thank the kind Vintage people for my review copy.

A further esteemed American man of letters in short form can be had with Beginners by Raymond Carver.

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Buy The Suicide Run by William Styron at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Suicide Run by William Styron at


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