Bear and His Daughter

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Since his debut as a novelist with DOG SOLDIERS in 1974 which won the National Book Award for fiction, Robert Stone has concentrated on the themes which he feels are central to the presentation of what he calls “my subject . . . America and Americans.” His often grim but...

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Since his debut as a novelist with DOG SOLDIERS in 1974 which won the National Book Award for fiction, Robert Stone has concentrated on the themes which he feels are central to the presentation of what he calls “my subject . . . America and Americans.” His often grim but hardly solemn vision of “American reality” has been based on characters (usually male) who are essentially alone, often angry or rootless, tempted or touched by violence, and inclined toward or deeply involved with alcohol and/or drugs. The seven pieces in BEAR AND HIS DAUGHTER retain this focus on people who have suffered some severe loss or debilitating disappointment, but Stone’s manic wit, deft satirical touch, superb powers of description—especially in moments of action—and ability to craft convincing dialogue give his shorter fiction the same “qualities that make Stone’s novels so harrowing, exhilarating, and impossible to forget,” as Paul Gray puts it.

The first two stories, “Miserere” and “Absence of Mercy” function as a kind of frame for the collection. The first title is both a specific reference to the familiar prayer which asks for “Miserere nobis”—mercy on us—and a linguistic suggestion of the depth of misery that the protagonist, Mary Urquhart, has experienced. Her spiritual recovery, if tenuous, is set in direct contrast to Mackay whose psychic desolation is partially the product of the absence of mercy which has him wondering “just how far he would run and where it was that he thought to go” at the story’s conclusion. The characters in all of the stories are in some sense stranded between their desire for “grace” (which is literally the name of the woman Chas Elliot of “Helping” turns to and turns against ) and their frustration at the futility of their efforts to achieve it.

Stone has stated that one of his goals in writing is to enable people to “confront things as they are in a more courageous way,” and one way that the characters in his work move in this direction is in their struggle to manage a relationship that takes them beyond rage or isolation. In “Helping,” “Under the Pitons,” and especially in “Bear and His Daughter,” the poignance of what are uncertain, troubled but intensely compelling relationships enable Stone to confront the complexity of what he has called “the American condition” with unusual insight and a vivid imagination that makes his work both disturbing and also satisfying in a manner rare in contemporary fiction.

Sources for Further Study

Booklist. XCIII, March 1, 1997, p. 1112.

Chicago Tribune. April 27, 1997, XIV, p. 3.

Kirkus Reviews. LXV, February 1, 1997, p. 168.

Library Journal. CXXII, February 1, 1997, p. 110.

Los Angeles Times Book Review. April 6, 1997, p. 2.

The New York Review of Books. XLIV, October 9, 1997, p. 36.

The New York Times Book Review. CII, April 20, 1997, p. 13.

Newsweek. CXXIX, April 28, 1997, p. 79.

Publishers Weekly. CCXLIV, February 3, 1997, p. 92.

Time. CXLIX, April 7, 1997, p. 84.

Bear and His Daughter

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While discussing such novels as Dog Soldiers (1974), A Flag for Sunrise (1981), and Children of Light (1986), which have secured his reputation as one of the leading writers of fiction in the United States, Robert Stone has insistently proclaimed that “my subject” is “America and Americans.” Stone’s capability as a writer has been recognized since Dog Soldiers won a National Book Award, but his manner of depicting American experience has drawn a mixed response, including such negative assessments as the comment that there is “not a hint of a whiff of a shred of a trace of a clue about what is best about America” in his novels. Stone himself has somewhat sardonically summarized his own work as “heavy, lugubrious, life is dreadful, nothing’s funny, just one long plaintive wail unrelieved by brio,” a dryly self-mocking acknowledgment of some of his preoccupations, as well as a reproach to those critics who have not been able to separate situation and circumstance from Stone’s characters and their attempts to grapple with hardship.

The six short stories that originally appeared in journals such as The New Yorker, Harper’s Magazine, and Esquire, plus the semi-novella “Bear and His Daughter,” which provides the title for the first collection of Stone’s shorter work, cover familiar territory. Their central characters are in their middle years, people born during World War II who reached adulthood in the 1960’s and whose lives are wrenched and troubled. Lacking direction and a clear sense of purpose, they are all heavily involved with alcohol and/or drugs; whatever their temperaments, they are touched and tempted by violence. Nevertheless, as Stone has observed, “I’m critical, sometimes bitterly critical, but I love America.” This apparent contradiction, a kind of disjunction between the psychic condition of his protagonists and his professed love for America, is illuminated, if not resolved, by his statement that “The national promise is so great that a tremendous bitterness is evoked by its elusiveness.” Here, Stone is speaking to the utopian dream that formed the first concept of a “Brave New World” that F. Scott Fitzgerald saw as “the light on Daisy’s dock” and that Allen Ginsberg celebrated and lamented as “the lost America of love.” In his short stories, as in his novels, Stone is writing with a kind of deep sympathy for, but a clear eye on, people whose possibilities of a smooth course for their lives were destroyed by a chain of personal and political events beyond their ability to control.

The first story, “Miserere,” has a title that resonates with “that prayer sung over and over” in Latin: Agnus Dei, qui tollis peccata mundi, Miserere nobis. The final phrase of the prayer, which asks “the Lamb of God” to “have mercy on us,” might also be heard by the English-speaking reader as misery. Mary Urquhart, fifty years old, has emerged from the paralyzing depression of “widowhood and recovery,” from abject misery, to serve as a source of strength and encouragement for troubled friends in the grimy, decaying rust-belt city where she lives. Stone generally locates his stories in (or near) the narrative consciousness of a male protagonist but has always tried to make the women characters in his work as vivid and singular as the men. As critic James Woods has pointed out, these men seem “halved, severed, emotionally divorced. Certainly his [Stone’s] men feel alone.” Following the most profound human loss, Urquhart experiences the kind of isolation that can literally destroy a person’s will to live. Her recovery is a function of her innate compassion for other people’s pain, of her delight in recalling apt quotes from classical literature to reinforce her instinctive responses to the images of beauty she sees amidst urban blight, and of her awe-driven faith in an almost abstract, if mysterious, God/Creator: “the ancient Thing before whose will she stood amazed.” It is this combination of deep feeling for another human being, an appreciation for the powers of language to ratify a version of reality, and an awareness of some cosmic force, mysterious but strangely exalting (often exemplified by the ocean in Stone’s writing), that gives Urquhart and other characters in these stories the will and desire to resist misery. As Stone has said, his characters are “lost,” and his intention is to “write to give them courage, to make them confront things as they are in a more courageous way.”

One of the reasons that moments of courage in Stone’s work are so affecting is that the world he describes is often marked by an “Absence of Mercy,” the title of the second story whose placement is clearly designed as a commentary on “Miserere.” In what he says is his only autobiographically based work of fiction, Stone established the psychology of perception of a man raised essentially as an orphan because of his mother’s incapacity, and who finds himself without a social connection or foundation or any affiliation beyond the enclosure of his mind and his reflective assessment of his life’s course. With some degree of distress, he realizes that most of the memorable aspects of his life have been ordered by violence, or its threat, in the exercise of power, and in the story’s unsettling conclusion he finds himself fighting for survival on a subway platform against an addled but formidable antagonist who is a total stranger. His ability to overcome his adversary provides neither relief nor satisfaction, sending him careening into the street. His last thoughts are of “just how far he would run and where it was that he thought to go.” Stone is suggesting that the absence of the title is akin to “the existentialist tradition of God as an absence—not a meaningless void, but a negative presence.” Without much societal support, Stone’s characters need to find a way to fill this emptiness, and even when the theological dimension is not presented as specifically as in the first two stories, it hovers over the action, inescapable.

As reviewer Paul Gray points out, the qualities that make Stone’s novels so “harrowing, exhilarating and impossible to forget” exist in “concentrated form” in all seven pieces of Bear and His Daughter, in part because Stone’s ability to create a tableau of riveting tension works especially well in a short story, where an intense focus on character and situation can be maintained throughout the narrative without the need for a change of pace to provide some relief for the reader. This density of texture does not become oppressive, however, because Stone writes with verve (or brio?) and invention that makes potentially oppressive scenes startling and often almost manically humorous. In his introduction to The Best Short Stories of 1992, which he co-edited, Stone notes the “renewal and revitalization of the realist mode,” implying that his own use of realism is as valid as other postmodern strategies more in vogue, but he has put a characteristic slant on “realism” by commenting, “Realism as a theory of literature is meaningless. I can start with it as a mode precisely because I don’t believe in it.” The extended conversations in “Porque No Tiene, Porque La Falta” are convincingly plausible, but the story operates as a searing satire of both proto-beatnik babble and New Age quasi-self-assertive nonsense as the characters substitute formulaic mantras calculated to win various mind games for any sort of actual communication. The interior monologue that constitutes most of the “action” in “Aquarius Obscured”—the thoughts of a young woman and her small daughter as they plan to visit an aquarium, and then the mother’s rapt discussion with a porpoise about human limits and extra-human “intelligence”—shifts between the hilarious vacillation of a drug-twisted imagination and the sad confusion of a drug-dazed fumbler. Without the comic stance, the predicament Stone portrays could be almost too numbing to bear, and the thrust of the satire is toward some of the numerous targets for Stone’s disdain in late twentieth century America.

The aspect of aloneness that appears to be the dominant trait of the male characters—their separation or estrangement even from “that which is most familiar” (as the poet Charles Olson put it)—is almost a defining element of the “American reality” for which Stone strives. Their efforts to survive in a cosmos where, as Stone states bluntly in “Helping,” “There would be damn little justice and no mercy” are often little more than a vague groping toward some hazy alternative to their current condition. Their inclination toward alcohol or drugs is not really an addiction as much as a willingness to bear the consequences of what they know is a destructive maneuver. In three of the most heartfelt stories—“Helping,” “Under the Pitons,” and the extended “Bear and His Daughter”—relationships with the women they love in some way seem to offer them at least the possibility of an improvement or perhaps the opportunity to alter what appears to be a dark destiny.

“Under the Pitons” is set off the coast of Martinique in the Caribbean, the kind of locale Stone employs often since, as he says, “I seem to have imprinted the ocean in a very strong way.” The protagonist, Liam Blessington, has agreed to convey a crew of vicious screw-ups on a drug run and has almost casually invited Gillian, a woman for whom he feels a mix of lust and disgust, to be a traveling companion. Amid the chaos and stupidity of a doomed voyage, Blessington and Gillian begin to know and fall in love with each other, and after they are forced to make a long swim toward land, their wayward relationship coalesces into a mutual respect that is the more poignant for its incongruity. There are few happy endings in Stone’s stories, but Blessington is clearly a better man for what he has endured, even if his loss is palpable.

“Helping” is the single story of Stone’s that has been anthologized in several collections. Chas Elliot, the protagonist, is a psychological counselor who could use help about as much as his clients. He is driven by a fog of rage that Stone makes very understandable by surrounding him with people who are irritating, needy, and immoral, or smugly superior and vacuous. Although aware of his incipient alcoholism, he chooses to drink as a kind of defiance, purposely pushing and risking the consequences. “With dread and bitter satisfaction” he awaits his wife’s discovery that he is smashed, and then tells her:

What you have to understand, Grace, is that this drink I’m having . . . is the only worthwhile thing I’ve done in the last year and a half . . . the closest thing to satisfaction I’ve had. Now how can you begrudge me that? It’s the best I’m capable of.

Their relationship is rife with anger, insult, and threat, and yet their feelings for each other are far from entirely negative, and their need for each other is one of the primary reasons for their individual and mutual struggle to survive. Stone succeeds in making Elliot and Grace sympathetic figures in spite of their self- indulgence and weakness, and the dialogue between them has the ring of reality because of its revelation of psychological truth. “Helping” is a brief for a bitter man, and his behavior, while hardly endorsed, is justified by Stone’s insight.

“Bear and His Daughter” wavers into the nebulous area where a short story tends toward a full-length novel. The life history of the acclaimed poet Will Smart (the symbolic “bear” of the title) and his daughter Rowan (a wild, creative woman of thirty working as a park ranger, who has all of her father’s wayward genius, troubled soul, and rebellious spirit) could easily be expanded. The compression of the incidents, however, builds an unrelenting pressure that makes the explosion at the denouement inevitable, and the flights of ecstasy and absolute crashes into despair that Smart and Rowan experience are the more intense for the extremity of their passions. In an interesting variant, Stone also introduces a figure of stability and a friend of Rowan, the Shoshone Indian named John Hears the Sun Come Up, who appears to have the self-possession and perception that is necessary for psychic survival. His understated good sense and his firm grounding in something substantial give him a hip wisdom and calmness that is unforced and appealing. After the tragic violence of an unusual family reunion, John’s qualification of everything that the blunt law officer says leads the sheriff to complain, “Every goddamn thing I say you gotta contradict it?” This is the complexity that Stone cannot help seeing and confronting, the vision of American reality that is so striking in his work.

Sources for Further Study

Booklist. XCIII, March 1, 1997, p. 1112.

Chicago Tribune. April 27, 1997, XIV, p. 3.

Kirkus Reviews. LXV, February 1, 1997, p. 168.

Library Journal. CXXII, February 1, 1997, p. 110.

Los Angeles Times Book Review. April 6, 1997, p. 2.

The New York Review of Books. XLIV, October 9, 1997, p. 36.

The New York Times Book Review. CII, April 20, 1997, p. 13.

Newsweek. CXXIX, April 28, 1997, p. 79.

Publishers Weekly. CCXLIV, February 3, 1997, p. 92.

Time. CXLIX, April 7, 1997, p. 84.

Literary Techniques

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In his Introduction to the Best American Short Stories of 1992, which he edited, Stone noted that "the most significant development in late twentieth-century American fiction (is) the renewal and revitalization of the realist mode." He went on to observe that "American writers seem ready to accept traditional forms without self-consciousness in dealing with the complexity of the world around them." This comment would seem to support Stone's employment of some "traditional forms"—notably the realist mode—but Stone has always insisted on a more elaborate view of realism than the term sometimes suggests. "Realism as a theory of literature is meaningless," Stone contends. "I can start with it as a mode because I don't believe in it." Recalling his youth in the company of his mother who was diagnosed with symptoms of intermittent schizophrenia, he says that "Realism wasn't an issue because there wasn't any. There was no strong distinction for me between objective and imaginative worlds." Nonetheless, as James Woods says, his "great powers of realism" provide a solid foundation for the imaginative techniques he uses.

For instance, Stone is able to write riveting scenes of action, such as the struggle on the subway platform in "Absence of Mercy," or the long, desperate swim in "Under the Pitons," or the wild ride in "Porque No Tiene, Porque Le Falta," scenes which hold the reader in a vice of suspense and anticipation, the details vivid, graphic and relentless. And his dialogue is equally gripping, always pointed and convincing, as he finds a specific voice for each character which is rooted in their psychological make-up and consistent in tone and pace, its rhythms echoing the mood of the moment. Similarly, his descriptive passages are graphic and visually intense, putting the reader into the tableau so that the landscape of Central America in "Porque No Tiene, Porque Le Falta," the Caribbean seascape of "Under the Pitons" and the southwest Shoshone country in "Bear and His Daughter" are as accessible as the generally more familiar settings in the urban northeast of "Miserere," "Absence of Mercy," and "Helping." Nonetheless, the realistic aspects of these elements are far from the entire picture. The experience of landscape takes on surreal qualities in each story as the shifting moods of the characters alter their perceptions of what they see and feel. Fatigue and exhilaration give Blessington in "Under the Pitons" a vision of the ocean as a living entity that is his partner as well as his foe. The speech of the characters remains consistent, thus apparently realistic, but Stone manipulates his practice of thirdperson narration so that the omniscient narration fuses with long stretches of dialogue that seem to emerge from a first-person, unfolding present-tense perspective, creating an impression of being within the character's mind.

The poet Will Smart in "Bear and His Daughter" is frequently reflective, moving back across earlier incidents in his life, and adding verses to a poem he is refashioning, putting the reader close to the flow of thought in his conscious and subconscious faculties. In choosing to actually show Smart's poem, Stone is taking something of a risk since he has centered the story around the assumption that Smart is a poet of national prominence, his gifts still flourishing even if his place in the national literary firmament is less certain than it once was. The equivalence of the man and his work—"You became scattered lines of your own poem," Smart realizes with some satisfaction— and the exultation of the creative moment—"A magical experience it had been that night, all poetry and light!"— are at the heart of Stone's affectionate, empathetic characterization, and the poem that Smart is working on runs through the story like a continuing chorus of affirmation, its glowing images and insights countering the sad, pathetic fumbling of a drunken sentimentalist. It is not surprising that among his "forbears" Stone mentions that he likes Celine and Nathaniel West and Dos Passos, whose work also extends the realistic into other areas, but when an interviewer suggests an affinity with "writers like John Barth and William Gass and Donald Barthelme," Stone replies that his difference from those writers is that "they take realism too seriously and so have to react against it." His own fusion is more seamless, possibly because he has so much faith in the narrative thread of the events of the story itself, an aesthetic position validated by the singularity of his short fiction.

Ideas for Group Discussions

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In spite of Stone's continued insistence that "I love America" even if he is "sometimes bitterly critical," and that he regards himself as "a patriot," some reviewers have found his work totally deficient in terms of American values. One wrote, "Not a hint of a whiff of a shred of a trace of a clue about what is best about America has ever showed up in a Robert Stone novel." One approach to Stone's short fiction would be to consider just how he does represent the best of American experience. Another kind of complaint about his work is summarized in wry self-mockery by Stone himself, who called his writing "heavy, lugubrious, life is dreadful, nothing's funny, just one long plaintive wail unrelieved by brio." Since there are numerous expressions of a comic mode in the stories, a consideration of how comedy works (comedy of manner; satire; comedy of situation; comic dialogue) would also be interesting. And while Stone has certainly emphasized the male characters in his novels, there are some portraits of women in the short stories which are an indication of his intention to write about aspects of feminine experience with the same degree of interest he has brought to the men. A discussion of the similarities and differences between male and female protagonists would be worthwhile as a means for understanding Stone's ideas.

1. Consider the theological dimensions of Mary Urquhart's decision about abortion in "Miserere." How does Stone locate God in human affairs in this story?

2. Explore the dimensions of violence as Stone uses them in "Absence of Mercy."

3. How does Stone move between the sinister and the hilarious in "Porque No Tiene, Porque Le Falta?" Does the mixture of modes enhance or detract from the presentation of the central character?

4. Does Stone expect the reader to sympathize with or feel disgust for Chas Elliot in "Helping"? How does Elliot's treatment of his wife, Grace, affect the reader's feelings?

5. What is the role of seascape in "Under the Pitons?" How does Stone use the ocean as a symbol?

6. Is Stone's use of a talking porpoise in "Aquarius Obscured" a version of the technique known as "magical realism"? Consider the concept and its applicability to the story.

7. In what way is John Hears the Sun Come Up in "Bear and His Daughter" an attempt by Stone to depict a man who is not "lost?" Why has he changed his focus here?

8. Examine the entire poem that Will Smart is composing in "Bear and His Daughter." What are the values Stone is seeking in its gradual development? How good is the poem?

9. What admirable qualities does Stone find in Rowan Smart in "Bear and His Daughter"? Is her death inevitable? What does her tragic action say about American society?

Social Concerns

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Whenever Robert Stone has discussed his work, he has emphasized his abiding interest in what he calls "my subject. America and Americans." His explanation of his intentions for his first novel A Hall of Mirrors (1967)—"I was looking for a vision of America, for a statement about the American condition"— is applicable to all of his work, and this often grim vision of American reality is the central feature of the short fiction which he has collected in Bear and His Daughter. While admitting that he is "sometimes bitterly critical," Stone maintains that he is "a patriot" and that "I love America." The dark cast of much of his work develops from what Stone sees as a gulf between a great national promise and the nature of life for many Americans. The elusiveness of what sometimes seems almost a national birthright has, Stone feels, put "people in a state of anomie, of frustration," and in stories published originally over three decades, he has attempted to explore and express this condition, and then to identify, to dramatize, to understand, and to some extent, to explain the social situations which have driven his characters to extremes of behavior which threaten their physical and psychological survival.

The six stories in Bear and His Daughter which have been previously published in magazines like The New Yorker, Harper's Magazine, and Esquire, and the novella-like title piece which was written for this collection, range across the spectrum of major social concerns of the last decades of the twentieth century. Stone has referred to the consumption of alcohol and drugs in his work as "ridiculous" in a characteristically self-mocking acknowledgment of one of his preoccupations, and every one of the stories involves to a significant degree a person whose addiction is a central aspect of their life. Perhaps most prominently, the protagonist of "Helping"—the story placed at the center of the book—is a man who is fully aware of the destructive nature of his desire to temporarily deflect an almost constant feeling of psychic distress by returning to a familiar pattern of alcoholic consumption that makes him unruly and unpleasant even in the company of the woman he loves. "What you have to understand, Grace," he tells her as an excuse he himself doesn't entirely believe or understand, "is that this drink I'm having is the only worthwhile thing I've done in the last year and a half." Like the protagonists of all the other stories, Elliot's addiction is a function of an individual need which makes him vulnerable to the pressures of living in a postmodern world. These people have been weakened by some unpleasant incident or unsettling relationship—a common feature of Stone's "American reality"—and their turn to the surcease of mind-altering or mind-numbing substances is the result of a personal problem combined with intolerable social pressures. Taken together, the stories present a catalogue of current concerns as Stone saw them through the last decades of the twentieth century.

Mary Urquhart in "Miserere" has suffered the most profound of human losses and turned, understandably, to heavy drinking before achieving a kind of recovery through a commitment to a religious calling. Her determination to rescue for salvation the souls of aborted fetuses troubles the priests she asks for assistance. The purity of her quest and the wavering of the clergy enables Stone to examine without explicit judgement the extremely sensitive issue of abortion and the difficulty of acting effectively even from the most unselfish of motives. "Absence of Mercy" is a meditation on violence—its seductive appeal, its terrifying effect on rational thought and its consequences for the men who have accepted it as a part of their masculinity, ultimately staking their virility on its dubious pleasures. Stone has said that "violence is very close to all of us" and his writing is a means of coming to terms with what cannot be avoided. "Porque No Tiene, Porque Le Falta" also explores the hovering menace of a volatile social mix but is essentially concerned with the failure of certain styles of behavior lauded as cutting edge or hip in the 1960's, now revealed as exaggerated posturing, empty-headed babbling, and self-serving manipulation by imitators and calculators grasping at trends exhausted or debased and devoid of substance. Elliot in "Helping" is unable to avoid lapsing into old patterns of drinking due to what might be called defects in his basic character, but the bleakness of his job as a counselor, the smug assurance of some of the people in his neighborhood, the outright nastiness of some of his wife's clients, and the overall lack of hope for any improvement in his life contribute to his difficulties.

Stone's depiction in "helping" what appears to be a typical community in modern America is designed as a caustic portrait of degeneration and discouragement. "Under the Pitons" is set in the Caribbean, and here Stone widens his view (as he has in the central American setting of "Porque No Tiene, Porque Le Falta") to include sinister figures from the world beyond the United States, confirming suspicions that things are not discernibly better anywhere else. This narrative focus of this story is an unlikely love affair, growing out of circumstances hardly conducive to anything other than immediate and temporary gratification, and the poignance of the couple's desperate struggle to reach shore while their feeling for each other is growing beyond expectations is Stone's way of placing the entire concept of romantic love in jeopardy. It is as if he is challenging the commonly held belief (or hope) that "love is all you need." As a corollary, the young mother who takes her daughter to an aquarium in "Aquarius Obscured" has had her mind so addled by a drugdrenched existence that she is ready to engage a porpoise in a very serious philosophical debate. She seems to have totally accepted many of the post-hippie slogans and mantras that may have begun in wisdom but have evolved into mindless idiocy, and Stone uses her narration as a sympathetic consideration of her plight but also as a devastating critique of a series of New Age crazes. "Bear and His Daughter," while not quite a summing up, pulls together many of the social issues he has raised in the other stories. The accomplished poet Will Smart and his daughter Rowan, a park ranger, are both brilliant, eccentric, haunted by the excesses of their mutual and separate past, and incapable of resisting the lure of narcotics. Mary Urquhart's search for a sort of salvation in a godless landscape is paralleled by Smart's attempt to compose a quest epic in which the natural world redeems the failure of urban civilization, while Rowan's retelling of Native American myths and legends serves the same function; the violence of "Absence of Mercy" overwhelms both of them; the ruptured but fundamentally crucial relationship between Elliot and Grace in "Helping" is echoed by Smart (the Bear) and his daughter who are trapped in a world where their qualities are not appreciated and their capabilities underused. Throughout the story, stupid people, strangling conventions, and social dysfunction are rampant. The horror and sadness at the conclusion seem inevitable considering the vision of contemporary life that Stone has generated.

Literary Precedents

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Ernest Hemingway's short stories cast a long shadow over the work of the writers who followed him, but the inevitable revision of a reputation after the author's death has reduced Hemingway's reputation from its mid-twentieth century godlike stature, and many new modes of fiction (like the work of Barth, Barthelme, and Oates) have made the "Hemingway story" seem a little old-fashioned to some. Nevertheless, the power of his best work—"Hills Like White Elephants," "In Another Country," "A Clean, Well-Lighted Place"—has not been diminished by the passage of time, and Stone's interest in men who must stand alone, men who are tested by their ability in a physically demanding situation, men who are struggling to act with decency and honor echoes some of Hemingway's central concerns. Stone also uses the sea as an important setting and symbol, carrying on the line of Melville and Conrad (who might be included among what Stone calls his "great masters, the late Victorians") which Hemingway picked up as well, but in his exploration of social situations and in his incisive examination of the women who are prominent characters in his stories, Stone is working in territory that was more Fitzgerald's than Hemingway's. The angst that Stone's characters experience seems to be a distinctly post- Cold War phenomenon, but Stone might be seen as operating in some of the same areas as such slightly older semicontemporaries as Malamud, Roth, and Salinger, and the fact that every story includes a considerable consumption of alcohol suggests a sort of kinship to Cheever, whose characters also drank heavily, although with much less anger.

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