Havanas in Camelot


It’s essential to Styron that these larger-than-life figures be shown, even at the pinnacle of their public glory, as creatures of uncertainty and appetite, just as it’s essential that we see Styron himself not merely on the podia of lecture halls or in his book-lined Martha’s Vineyard study but suffering the depredations of chronic prostatitis. (By the way, Styron’s essay on the prostate, originally published in France, is one of the funniest and wisest in the book; I doubt any male reader will walk away from it unaffected.) Urogenital horrors also inform “A Case of the Great Pox,” an eloquent account of Styron’s skirmish with a diagnosis of syphilis during World War II that incorporates a lucid meditation on the disease’s rich and terrible history. Here, as in his novels, Styron demonstrates his genius for revealing the inextricability of the personal from the global.

“Havanas in Camelot” includes three essays in which Styron recounts his friendships with other writers: Truman Capote, James Baldwin and Terry Southern. Of the three, Southern comes across with particular vigor, a Texas libertine whose passionate admiration for, of all people, Henry Green leads him to write a novel called “Flash and Filigree.” “I trust then, Bill,” he remarks, after giving Styron the manuscript, “that you think this will put me in the quality lit game?”

more from the NY Times here.