Bear and His Daughter

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

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...

(The entire section is 474 words.)