A Tidewater Morning

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

William Styron is an American fiction writer of the first rank, the author of such powerful novels as LIE DOWN IN DARKNESS (1951), THE CONFESSIONS OF NAT TURNER (1967), and SOPHIE’S CHOICE (1979). A TIDEWATER MORNING constitutes the first book of fiction that Styron has published in more than ten years. The three stories first appeared in ESQUIRE magazine: “Love Day” in 1985, “Shadrach” in 1978, and “A Tidewater Morning” in 1987. The protagonist of the stories is Paul Whitehurst. In the opening story, “Love Day,” Whitehurst is a twenty-year-old Marine lieutenant on board a troopship off the coast of Okinawa on April 1, 1945. While he waits for a decision to be made whether his ship will be part of the invasion Whitehurst falls asleep and dreams about years past when he was a child. The dreams are disquieting and make him feel uneasy. He recalls the tension that existed within his family, and how that tension grew as his mother’s health became more precarious. She was dying and that tragedy has remained with him. As a child, Whitehurst learned what dying did to the person who was sick and to those who were close; now, as a soldier, he is not convinced that he is prepared to die himself.

In the second story, “Shadrach,” a ninety-nine-year-old black man has come to the Tidewater region of Virginia to die. He had been living in Alabama, but he felt the need to return to the land of the family who had owned him many years ago. As a thirteen-year-old boy, Whitehurst is amazed by the sight of the old Shadrach. The former slave presents himself with dignity. He has gathered all of his remaining strength to return to the home of his childhood. AS the ravages of age bring Shadrach to death’s door, he is able to muster one last attempt to control his destiny.

The title story again finds Whitehurst to be a boy of thirteen. The tragedy of his mother’s death is delineated in all of its horror. There seems to be no way of warding off the bottomless pain. Whitehurst’s innocence is stripped away at an early age. A TIDEWATER MORNING is vintage Styron as the stories build one upon the other. They are stories of place, stories that describe how events within a specific place can scar as well as heal an individual.