“I loathe writing with what amounts to a kind of phobia,” he wrote in 1956, “and I suppose that it’s only a sort of perverse masochism that keeps me at it.” Styron, whose prose style straddled a fine line between the florid and the gorgeous, had to work harder than most for his finest effects. Aspiring novelists would do well to consider his suffering over this second novel — “this great bloated overwritten monster,” as he put it, the manuscript of which had grown to 850 pages by 1958 and a year later had retreated, snapping and snarling, to 825. No wonder Styron decided, almost 30 years later, that in his next life he would run a Pontiac dealership. In the meantime, he might be forgiven for doing his utmost to ensure a kindly reception from the critics, and not for nothing did Norman Mailer (whose bitter feud with Styron enlivens these pages) accuse him of having “oiled every literary lever and power” to advance his standing.

more from Blake Bailey at the NY Times here.