Children of Light
Children of Light is a contemporary fictional nightmare in which drugs and alcohol and mental illness are both the causes for the aimlessness and destructiveness of the characters and symbols for the human condition.
Gordon Walker is a successful screenwriter and actor whose life is rapidly coming unraveled. He has just returned to Hollywood after a summer playing King Lear in Seattle, and things are not going well. He thought he knew “how to endure, and what it was that got you through. There was work. There were the people you loved and the people who loved you.” These things, however, no longer work for Walker: His wife (Connie) has left him, he is estranged from his two teenage sons (Tom and Stuart), he cannot write, and he has become increasingly dependent on drugs and alcohol to get him through his daily crises—to say nothing of the larger anxieties (such as fear of death) that constantly assail him. Like Lear, Walker “hath ever but slenderly known himself,” and the prospects for further self-knowledge seem remote. Bitter, desolate, his life poisoned by the cocaine and vodka he ingests, he has “a vision of his life as trash.” He needs to “reinvent” himself but knows that this time it will not “be easy to get straight.”
Walker is looking for a new dream but escapes instead into an old one, Lu Anne Bourgeois, an actress and his former lover who is on the Baja coast filming Walker’s ten-year-old adaptation of Kate Chopin’s turn-of-the-century novel about emerging feminist consciousness, The Awakening. No one wants Walker in Mexico—both his agent and his agent’s secretary try to dissuade him—but Walker drives down to Bahía Honda anyway, to escape his demons and find salvation in Lu Anne. When he arrives, he realizes that “on a whim, he had come to a place where he was without friends to see a woman whom he had no business to see.”
For Lu Anne has demons of her own—what she calls the “Long Friends” of her schizophrenia—and the two people only feed each other’s fears and fantasies. Like Walker, Lu Anne has recently been deserted by mate and children, and she is barely holding herself together now. She completes a crucial scene from the end of The Awakening, in which Edna Pontellier walks into the ocean, and she tells Walter Drogue, Jr., the director of the film, using one of Edna’s lines, “If I must choose between nothingness and grief, I will choose grief.” She also chooses to share mescal and cocaine with Walker and quickly comes unraveled herself. Certainly, the Bahía Honda location is not a particularly healthy one, for even the strongest character, as all the film people here seem bent on self-destruction or the destruction of one another, and there is the added ingredient of Dongan Lowndes, a New York journalist who has come to Mexico to witness and record the disintegration of film and stars.
After one especially ugly party scene, where all the film people attack one another mercilessly, Lu Anne and Gordon flee by car and then by plane and end up in a deserted Baja valley where they had once been on location years before and where Lu Anne thinks that they will find a religious shrine. Instead they find a pigsty, and here they enact their final mad, drunken scene, saved only by the Mexican police, who have been called by suspicious locals. On the way back to Bahía Honda, Lu Anne convinces Gordon to stop for a swim in the ocean, and she successfully completes her role as Edna Pontellier and drowns herself. In the brief epilogue to the novel, a sober but suffering Walker is not even able to attend the Hollywood memorial service for Lu Anne Bourgeois.
Children of Light explores the horrific world of drugs, alcohol, and mental illness, and it is Robert Stone ’s intention to elevate these maladies into metaphors for the human condition, but his novel never quite succeeds. Clearly, this is a novel about spiritual and psychological disintegration, about people mired in the pigsty of...
(The entire section is 1,938 words.)