On Mark’s recommendation, I read this novel and agree completely with his sentiments. Briefly, the story is about some expatriates in Italy after WWII. The narrator, Peter, drives down to visit his old school friend, Mason, who is independently wealthy and partying it up with movie stars. There, Peter encounters another man in that circle, Cass. During Peter’s first night in town, everyone gets rip-roaring drunk, there are some spats, and the next day a woman has been raped and Mason is dead. The police wrap it up and say Mason raped her and committed suicide, case closed.
A few years later, Peter visits Cass in North Carolina to uncover the truth. The structure of how the narrative unfolds is interesting, because it’s almost entirely in a series of flashbacks. In the first half of the novel, Peter’s narrative develops the character of Mason and Mason’s side of that evening, and the second half of the novel is essentially Cass telling his story. And I think that structure, while interesting, is what ultimately makes the novel a magnificent failure, or whatever Faulkner’s phrase was.
Yes, there are some scenes that could edited, but even more troubling, the book could use a good line-editing page by page, because reading it I didn’t get a sense of an author. I felt like I was reading Norman Mailer, a big expansive overdone narrative that has these great moments but that left me not really knowing what to say about Styron the artist. I kept wishing Peter would just disappear the way Zuckerman disappears on Roth’s ’90s work. Peter does disappear, but he’s still there as a conscious listener, which is clunky.
Overall: I’m glad I read it, and will probably read more Styron, but I’m not sure I’d recommend it without Mark’s caveat that it could stand to be 150 pages shorter.