- Expected Mar 17, 2020
The first and definitive biography of one of the great American novelists of the postwar era, the author of Dog Soldiers and A Flag for Sunrise, and a penetrating critic of American power, innocence, and corruption
Robert Stone (1937-2015), probably the only postwar American writer to draw favorable comparisons to Ernest Hemingway, Graham Greene, and Joseph Conrad, lived a life rich in adventure, achievement, and inner turmoil. He grew up rough on the streets of New York, the son of a mentally troubled single mother. After his Navy service in the fifties, which brought him to such locales as pre-Castro Havana, the Suez Crisis, and Antarctica, he studied writing at Stanford, where he met Ken Kesey and became a core member of the gang of Merry Pranksters. The publication of his superb New Orleans novel, Hall of Mirrors (1967), initiated a succession of dark-humored novels that investigated the American experience in Vietnam (Dog Soldiers, 1974, which won the National Book Award), Central America (A Flag for Sunrise, 1981), and Jerusalem on the eve of the millennium (Damascus Gate, 1998).
An acclaimed novelist himself, Madison Smartt Bell was a close friend and longtime admirer of Robert Stone. His authorized and deeply researched biography is both intimate and objective, a rich and unsparing portrait of a complicated, charismatic, and haunted man and a sympathetic reading of his work that will help to secure Stone's place in the pantheon of major American writers.
Biographer and novelist Bell (Freedom's Gate) meticulously recounts the life of Robert Stone (1937 2015), whose novels "chronicled the peak and the decline of a great many aspects of U.S. world dominance" through troubled, sometimes autobiographical characters. Raised in New York City, Stone spent much of his childhood in a school run by the Marist Brothers religious order while his schizophrenic mother Stone never knew his father was institutionalized. Though he lost his faith, this exposure to Catholicism shaped both his worldview and work. A Navy stint initiated a lifelong penchant for travel to often-fraught locales, including Saigon and Jerusalem, which informed his books. His first novel, 1967's A Hall of Mirrors, a dark portrait of demagoguery in New Orleans, was an instant success. His second, 1974's Dog Soldiers, about heroin smuggling during the Vietnam War, won the National Book Award. A friend of Stone and his wife, Janice, Bell draws extensively on conversations with both, but doesn't allow that closeness to compromise his accounts of Stone's personal struggles, including with drug addiction. However, an unnecessary level of detail (Bell even gives the names of the dying Stone's physical therapists) distracts from the book's focus on cementing Stone's reputation. Nonetheless, Bell provides a solid biography of an important American novelist.