Sophie’s Choice

by William Styron


I stuck with it out of curiosity, not so much to find out what her choice was, but because this is supposedly an important American novel and I kept waiting for the “Aha!” moment when it would finally get good.  To me it was just way too long.  I now know what it’s like to suffer from too much foreshadowing.  It was so tiresome reading hint after ominous hint about what was going to happen.

The narration was clumsy and over-explanatory.  Do you really have to recap an event that you just narrated 50 pages anterior?  Did Styron think the audience too dumb to remember the episode well enough to comprehend an explicit allusion or (god forbid) an oblique reference?  Do you really have to hammer home over and over again how frustrated he is to not be having sex, just to build up one of the last scenes?  I’ll grant that it might have been intentional to create a narrator so unsympathetic and annoying, but the result was irritation and a hesitance to continue reading. 

Another problem with the narration was Sophie’s narrative about Auschwitz.  There were several moments when you saw the quotes around the paragraphs, indicating she was talking, but it was grammatically perfect.  It was, as I already said, clumsy, and I can only suppose it was poor planning.  Styron clearly wanted to eat his cake and have it too.

There were some pretty passages mixed in.  Most of the good stuff revolved around the Auschwitz narrative and the observations it afforded Styron to make about human nature and the nature of hellish war.  There were some good analogies, particularly the rats-in-barrel (Jews) vs. rats-in-burning-building (all other victims). 

Of course, this reaffirms my opinion that this could have been a much better book by cutting out 2-300 pages.  I’m just going to assume that most of the “staggering,” and “masterful” touches (two adjectives employed in the praise section of the edition I read) to this work were over my head.

Original Review


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