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Robert (Anthony) Stone Biography

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Nationality: American. Born: Brooklyn, New York, 1937. Education: New York University, 1958-59; Stanford University, California (Stegner fellow, 1962). Military Service: Served in the United States Navy, 1955-58. Career: Editorial assistant, New York Daily News, 1958-60; writer-in-residence, Princeton University, New Jersey, 1971-72; taught at Amherst College, Massachusetts, 1972-75, 1977-78, Stanford University, 1979, University of Hawaii, Manoa, 1979-80, Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1981, University of California, Irvine, 1982, and San Diego, 1985, New York University, 1983, Princeton University, 1985; Johns Hopkins University, 1993-94; and since 1994, Yale University. Awards: Houghton Mifflin Literary fellowship, 1967; Faulkner Foundation award, 1967; Guggenheim grant, 1968; National Book award, 1975; Dos Passos prize, 1982; American Academy award, 1982; National Endowment for the Arts fellowship, 1983; Strauss Living award, 1987. Agent: Donadio and Ashworth, 121 West 27th Street, New York, New York 10001, U.S.A.

PUBLICATIONS

Novels

A Hall of Mirrors. Boston, Houghton Mifflin, 1967; London, BodleyHead, 1968.

Dog Soldiers. Boston, Houghton Mifflin, 1974; London, Secker andWarburg, 1975.

A Flag for Sunrise. New York, Knopf, and London, Secker andWarburg, 1981.

Children of Light. New York, Knopf, and London, Deutsch, 1986.

Outerbridge Reach. New York, Ticknor and Fields, and London, Deutsch, 1992.

Damascus Gate. Boston, Houghton Mifflin, 1998.

Short Stories

Bear and His Daughter: Stories. Boston, Houghton Mifflin, 1997.

Uncollected Short Stories

"Geraldine," in Twenty Years of Stanford Short Stories, edited byWallace Stegner and Richard Scowcroft. Stanford, California, Stanford University Press, 1966.

"Farley the Sailor," in Saturday Evening Post (Philadelphia), 14January 1967.

"Thunderbolts in Red, White, and Blue," in Saturday Evening Post(Philadelphia), 28 January 1967.

"A Hunter in the Morning," in American Review 26, edited byTheodore Solotaroff. New York, Bantam, 1977.

"WUSA," in On the Job, edited by William O'Rourke. New York, Vintage, 1977.

"War Stories," in Harper's (New York), May 1977.

"Not Scared of You," in Gentlemen's Quarterly (New York), March1989.

Plays

Screenplays:

WUSA, 1970; Who'll Stop the Rain, with JudithRascoe, 1978.

Other

Images of War, edited by Julene Fischer. Boston, Boston PublishingCompany, 1986.

*

Critical Studies:

Robert Stone by Robert Solotaroff, New York, Twayne Publishers and Toronto, Maxwell Macmillan Canada, 1994.

* * *

Robert Stone combines old-fashioned concerns—the morality of human behavior, the responsibility of choice, the relationship between the individual and history—with topical interests—racism in the U.S., the war in Vietnam, American involvement in Latin-American revolutions—to produce fiction that is both emotionally engaging and thought provoking.

A Hall of Mirrors, Stone's first novel, tells the story of three rootless drifters whose paths converge in New Orleans: Rheinhardt, an alcoholic ex-musician; Geraldine, a battered woman; and Morgan Rainey, an idealistic social worker. Victims both of circumstance and of their own self-destructiveness, the trio is eventually caught up in an orgy of violence touched off by a patriotic rally sponsored by the owner of right-wing radio station WUSA, where Rheinhardt works. The final third of the novel is devoted to a nightmarish description of the rally and the ensuing riot (portrayed in almost hallucinatory language), which leaves nineteen persons dead. The apocalyptic conclusion is reminiscent of the movie premiere riot that ends Nathaniel West's The Day of the Locust, but Stone's version of Armageddon has its roots not so much in the unrealized longings of the alienated outsider as in the racism and fanatical right-wing extremism he sees poisoning American society in the 1960s.

Dog Soldiers centers on the desperate flight of Ray Hicks, an ex-marine, and Marge Converse, wife of Hicks's friend John Converse, a journalist on assignment in Vietnam, to escape the narcotics agents who are after the three kilos of heroin Hicks smuggled into California from Vietnam. Exciting as the narrative is, Dog Soldiers is much more than an adventure thriller, for by showing that the action is set in motion by events which have their origin in Vietnam where the novel begins, Stone links the madness of the war depicted in the early sections with the tragic fallout it has at home.

The novel begins with a quotation from Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness, a work which has strongly influenced Dog Soldiers. Like Conrad, who saw in Kurtz's ivory a symbol of man's "rapacious and pitiless folly," Stone uses heroin as a symbol of his characters' obsessions and of the war's tragic cost. In Vietnam Converse finds himself, as Kurtz did in the African jungle, torn loose from all the conventional supports of civilized society. Afloat emotionally and morally, he turns to heroin as a way of asserting himself ("This is the first real thing I ever did in my life," he declares), but his decision will soon prove to have costly consequences as the heroin's deadly poison begins to spread.

Like A Hall of Mirrors, Dog Soldiers concludes with an apocalyptic finale, a shootout between Hicks and the federal agents pursuing him, the action punctuated by the recorded sounds of combat amplified over loudspeakers set up around the mountain compound where the scene occurs. By reminding the reader of the actual battle taking place in Vietnam, Stone underscores the relationship between the war in Asia and its consequences at home. Also, he makes the point that here, as in Vietnam, it is difficult to tell the good guys from the bad buys: Antheil, the government agent who ends up with the heroin at the end, decides to keep it and use it for his own profit. In Stone's view, there are no victors; everyone is corrupted by the poison.

A Flag for Sunrise is Stone's most ambitious and successful novel to date. Set in the fictional Central American country of Tecan, it features the stories of three Americans, each with his own reason for coming to the country: Sister Justin Feeney, a devoted young Roman Catholic nun who runs a local mission; Frank Holliwell, an anthropologist who declines the request of a CIA buddy to look into the situation at the mission, but whose curiosity compels him to go anyway; and Pablo Tabor, a paranoid, pill-popping soldier of fortune whose thirst for excitement leads to his involvement in the dangerous business of gun-running to the Tecanecan revolutionaries. Inexorably, the fates of all three Americans become intertwined, just as, Stone suggests, America itself has gotten itself involved in the fate of this ravaged little country.

The novel represents Stone's most effective attempt at incorporating political issues—here the economic, military, political, and cultural roles the U.S. is playing in Latin American countries—and personal ones—individual commitment and responsibility for one's actions. By examining a variety of motives ranging from the simple purity of Sr. Justin's desire to help the poor, a commitment for which she is willing to die, to Holliwell's feckless drifting, to the combination of "circumstance, coincidence, impulse, and urging" that has driven a host of other characters (e.g., whiskey priests, journalists, CIA agents, resort developers, soldiers of fortune) to Tecan, Stone exposes the reasons which have led the U.S. itself to an active involvement in the affairs of undeveloped countries like Tecan.

Children of Light, a satirical novel about Hollywood and filmmaking, fails to measure up to the best of that genre (i.e. novels like Day of the Locust or Play It as It Lays), nor does it measure up to Stone's previous books. The novel features some brilliant flashes of satire at Hollywood's expense, and Stone's ear for absurd dialogue among the film types is well-tuned. In actress Lu Anne Verger, Stone also paints an affecting portrait of a schizophrenic whose tormented psyche finally overwhelms her during the filming of Kate Chopin's The Awakening on location in Mexico. But talk largely replaces action in this novel and Children of Light lacks the dramatic intensity and moral dimension that characterizes Stone's best work.

Stone returns to familiar philosophical and moral territory in Outerbridge Reach as he continues to explore such weighty issues as truth, honesty, self-knowledge, and betrayal. Owen Browne is a fortyish copywriter and commercial spokesman for a pleasure boat manufacturer. He is unexpectedly presented with an opportunity for the kind of adventure he sees as an antidote to his mid-life restlessness when his company names him to sail their entry in a solo around-the-world race. Alone at sea, he encounters, like Kurtz in Conrad's Heart of Darkness, the awesome challenge of isolation. In the process he discovers hidden truths about himself that have dire consequences for him and profound repercussions for the two other principals in the novel: his wife Anne and Ron Strickland, a filmmaker shooting a documentary about Browne's adventure. As in all his best work, Stone's sure control over language, character, and narrative produces dramatic and ambitious fiction of the highest order.

Though the seven stories (written over a thirty-year period) collected in Bear and His Daughter lack the thematic complexity of Stone's novels, they too illustrate his gifts as a writer. The best of them ("Helping," "Under the Pitons," and the title story) feature fascinating characters, powerful prose, and scenes fraught with tension, all hallmarks of Stone's longer fiction.

Stone's familiar apocalyptic themes find their perfect location in Jerusalem, the setting for Damascus Gate. The time is 1992 and the city is unsettled by political unrest (represented by the intifada, the Palestinian uprising against Israeli occupation, as well as a conspiracy to blow up the Islamic holy sites on the Temple Mount) and a steady influx of religious fanatics drawn to the Holy City in anticipation of the end of the millennium. At the center of the action is Christopher Lucas, an American writer researching a book on religious cults in the city. The novel features a much larger cast of characters than usual as Stone attempts to capture the crazy quilt of shifting religious identities and political alliances represented in the city. It is sometimes difficult to keep track of the diverse characters and their religious and political affiliations, which only serves to underscore the baffling complexity that characterizes Jerusalem. Stone's unwieldy cast of characters often overwhelms the narrative, with Lucas functioning more as a link connecting the disparate characters than as the central focus of the novel's moral and political themes, as Stone's protagonists ordinarily do. Ultimately, it is the city itself, brilliantly rendered in all its ancient beauty and contemporary mystery, that dominates the novel and it, rather than any of the characters, best symbolizes the confusing uncertainties of modern life that is Stone's recurring theme.

—David Geherin

David Lee Stone (1978–) Biography - Personal, Addresses, Career, Honors Awards, Writings, Adaptations, Sidelights [next] [back] Manya Stojic (1967-) Biography - Personal, Addresses, Career, Writings, Sidelights

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