Bear and His Daughter by Robert Stone

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Themes

(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

The forces in what a critic called "an America gone haywire" unraveling the social fabric in Stone's books have severely damaged the characters but Stone intends to do much more than just record their distress. Responding to the charge that his bleak outlook is too pessimistic, Stone contends while "I deal with much that's negative and gruesome—I don't write to dispirit people." At the heart of his work is an artistic credo that fits into the tradition of the writers Stone admires (Dickens; Dos Passos; Fitzgerald). Envisioning a readership somewhat akin to the characters themselves, Stone proclaims: "I write to give them courage, to make them confront things as they are in a more courageous way." Only Mary Urquhart in "Miserere" has any direct contact with some form of organized religion, but Stone's universe includes, even insists, on the presence of God in some form. However, as a character remarks in his novel A Flag For Sunrise (1981), "There's always a place for God— there's some question as to whether he's in it." Stone explains this position by saying "I feel a very deep connection to the existentialist tradition of God as an absence—-not a meaningless void, but a negative presence we live in terms of." The first two stories of Bear and His Daughter set the parameters of this position. The title "Miserere" is taken from the well-known prayer, "the prayer sung over and over since the beginning of music itself," which intones: Agnus Dei, qui tollis peccata mundi, Miserere nobis. It is a fervent expression of the soul's need for God's mercy, and in that story, at least for Urquhart, an expression of the possibilities of that prayer being answered. The tide, though, also carries its aural suggestion: Misery . How fine, Stone wonders, is the line separating a life of misery from the grace of a merciful God? The next story, with its unnerving title, "Absence of Mercy," is a partial answer, and the characters in the other stories are to some degree suspended in the gulf between despair and faith or hope, lurching toward either sector as the narrative progresses. Throughout, manifestations of the divine may occur as the redemptive powers of art (for Will Smart), or in the grandeur of the natural world (as in "Under the Pitons" where the OCEAN, which Stone says he has imprinted "in a very strong way," suggests some cosmic order), or perhaps most significantly, in a relationship in which the characters find some strength in their struggles. Smart and his daughter, for all the grievous flaws they share, have something of this, as do Liam and Gillian in "Under the Pitons." Typically, it is not enough to ensure their survival but it gives...

(The entire section is 691 words.)