Robert Stone Stone, Robert (Vol. 175) - Essay


(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Robert Stone 1937-

(Full name Robert Anthony Stone) American novelist, short story writer, and screenwriter.

The following entry presents an overview of Stone's career through 2003. For further information on his life and works, see CLC, Volumes 5, 23, and 42.

Author of the National Book Award-winning novel Dog Soldiers (1974), Stone has earned distinction for his exceedingly dark explorations of contemporary social and moral disintegration, particularly as presented through the experiences of cynical American expatriates, Vietnam veterans, and drug addicts whose self-destruction belies a longing for spiritual meaning in an apparently godless world. Though his works are typically plotted as thrillers—rife with violence, betrayal, and insanity—they are also marked by a profound, though inherently uncertain, religious sensibility. In Dog Soldiers, Children of Light (1986), and Outerbridge Reach (1992), Stone places ethically dubious protagonists in extreme—and often ironic—situations to create cautionary tales about the difficulty of acting as a moral being in an indifferent and overtly hostile universe. In other novels, such as A Flag for Sunrise (1981) and Damascus Gate (1998), Stone underscores the problem of resolving fervent and abiding faith with a distant, and seemingly unknowable, deity.

Biographical Information

Stone was born on August 21, 1937, in Brooklyn, New York, to C. Homer Stone and Gladys Catherine Grant. Stone's father abandoned his mother during her pregnancy, leaving Stone fatherless from birth. His mother, a schoolteacher, came from an affluent family, but suffered from schizophrenia and had to be hospitalized soon after Stone's sixth birthday. When no members of his family would take him in, the New York family court system decreed that Stone would live at Saint Ann's, the boarding school that he had been attending. After Stone's tenth birthday, his mother was released from the hospital and the two began living in inexpensive hotels on Manhattan's West Side. Stone continued at Saint Ann's, where he began writing short stories. Although an unenthusiastic student, Stone won a New York State Regents' scholarship largely on the strength of his writing talent. However, just before graduation, he was expelled from St. Ann's for converting another student to atheism. Stone subsequently joined the Navy, serving as a radioman during two Mediterranean tours of duty, where he witnessed combat during the Suez Crisis of 1956. He eventually passed his high-school equivalency test and earned a job as a Navy journalist. In 1958 he returned to New York and took a job with the Daily News. He began taking creative writing classes at New York University, where he met Janice Burr, whom he married in 1959. In early 1960 the couple moved to New Orleans, where they lived for the next eight months. During this time, Stone worked as a census taker, a dock laborer, and a door-to-door salesman—all the while gathering material for what would be his first novel. In late 1960 Stone, along with his wife and a newborn daughter, moved back to New York, where he worked as an advertising copywriter. During this time, he wrote the first thirty pages of a novel, which he sent to the creative writing program at Stanford University; he was accepted into the program on a Wallace Stegner fellowship in early 1962. While at Stanford, Stone worked on his novel and took part in the early LSD experiments led there by writer Ken Kesey. After the birth of their second child in 1963, Stone moved his family back to New York so that his wife could pursue a psychology degree at City College. In the summer of 1966, Stone finished his first novel, A Hall of Mirrors, which was published the next year and won the William Faulkner Award for best first novel. In 1968 Stone sold the film rights to the book and wrote the screenplay for its film adaptation, WUSA (1970). Stone moved to England for two years, returning to the United States in 1971 to teach creative writing at Princeton University. Early in 1971 Stone traveled to Saigon (now Ho Chi Mihn City) to cover the Vietnam War for an English magazine. Enthralled and repelled by the expatriate underworld he discovered there, Stone immediately began working the material he uncovered into a novel, Dog Soldiers, that earned him the National Book Award. In early 1976 Stone traveled for several weeks through Costa Rica, Nicaragua, and Honduras. The situations he encountered there eerily resembled those he had seen in Vietnam years earlier, and he was soon at work on a novel set in Central America. The resulting book, A Flag for Sunrise, received an American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters Award and John Dos Passos Prize as well as nominations for the Pulitzer Prize, the American Book Award, the National Book Critics Award, and the PEN/Faulkner Award. In the late 1970s Stone resumed his teaching career and, between 1979 and 1983, taught in five separate creative writing programs, including those at Stanford and Harvard University.

Major Works

Stone's first novel, A Hall of Mirrors, is set in New Orleans during the early days of the Civil Rights movement. The story follows Morgan Ranie, an idealistic census-taker, who discovers that the census is being used to legitimize a plot to remove poor African Americans from the state's welfare rolls. In an effort to thwart the scheme, Ranie befriends Rheinhardt, an alcoholic disc jockey at a right-wing radio station, hoping to coerce information from him. However, the charming and thoroughly amoral Rheinhardt is more than a match for the young Ranie, and he decides to string Ranie along, partly for his own amusement. While Ranie does succeed in winning over Geraldine Crosby, Rheinhardt's good-hearted but troubled girlfriend, the novel ends tragically, climaxing with a race riot engineered by a racist multi-millionaire. Ranie is killed and Crosby hangs herself after being unjustly arrested. Stone's second novel, Dog Soldiers, is laced with his characteristic black humor but is entirely devoid of sympathetic characters such as Ranie and Crosby in A Hall of Mirrors. Instead, the plot focuses on former Marine Raymond Hicks, a Nietzschean and stoic, who contracts to smuggle a bundle of heroin, valued at several million dollars, from Vietnam to Berkeley, California. After being double-crossed, Hicks teams up with Marge, a drug addict married to John Converse, one of Hicks's old Marine Corps friends. The pair then flees to the site of an old counter-culture commune in New Mexico with corrupt government agents in pursuit. As a scathing critique of the moral vacuum that resulted from the collapse of the ideals of the 1960s, Dog Soldiers is not without a moral center and Stone continually juxtaposes the ideals of Hicks—who sees life as a constant struggle for power—and John Converse—who will do anything to live another day.

In A Flag for Sunrise, Stone explores the moral framework of Gnosticism, a philosophical school which holds that the universe was not created by the divine but rather by a dark power and that only a scant vestige of the divine in the universe exists in each human being. The novel is set in Tecan, a fictional Central American country on the verge of a communist revolution. The action centers around a Catholic mission headed by Father Charles Egan, an aging alcoholic, who is working on a book about Gnosticism, and Sister Justin, an idealistic nun in her twenties, with ties to the revolutionaries. Just before the revolution commences, two Americans visit the mission—Frank Holliwell, an anthropologist and Vietnam veteran who is searching for an utopian paradise, and Pablo Tabor, a deserter from the Coast Guard who is looking to make a fortune in the drug trade. For a period of ten days, the characters struggle to find their moral place in the universe, but at novel's end, all have fared badly. Sister Justin is murdered for her part in the revolution and Holliwell, concluding that there is no good in the world, has converted to Gnosticism. Children of Light also explores the idea of the unavailability of God, though without the overlay of social criticism that marked Stone's previous novels. The protagonist, Gordon Walker, is an actor and screenwriter who has just finished a three-month run playing the title character in King Lear. Walker journeys to Baja California, where Lu Anne Bourgeois, an actress and former lover, is starring in a film he wrote. Stone's build-up to the reunion is ominous, however, as both characters are on the verge of nervous breakdowns. Walker, despondent over the departure of his wife and the bleakness of the role he has played for the past three months, is sinking into depression, alcoholism, and drug use. At the same time, Bourgeois has stopped taking her anti-psychotic medicine to help her acting and is beginning to show the symptoms of her schizophrenia. In Outerbridge Reach, Stone again examines personal disintegration with the story of Owen Browne, a conservative middle-class copywriter, who clings to his right-wing political and social ideals, despite a corporate scandal that rocks the yacht brokerage where he works and his own disturbing experiences as a naval officer during the Vietnam War. When given the opportunity by his company to circumnavigate the globe by himself, Browne eagerly accepts, much to the dismay of his wife Anne. Browne's preparations for the trip, which are largely slapstick misadventures, are filmed by Ronald Strickland, a documentary filmmaker hired by the yacht company even though he is known for cynically exposing the follies and hypocrisies of his subjects. The novel presents two equally tragic tales. The first is Browne's ill-fated expedition. Unable to exist on his own, he quickly descends into hallucinations and madness, destroying his homing device and creating a false captain's log. The second is Anne's gradual submission to Strickland's sexual advances, prompting her to become filled with self-loathing and resolving to embark on a solo voyage of her own.

In the seven stories collected in Bear and His Daughter (1997), written between 1969 and 1997, Stone revisits many familiar themes from his novels with his characteristically dark sense of humor. “Under the Pitons” follows a group of drug smugglers in the Caribbean, while “Aquarius Obscured” involves an amphetamine-addicted stripper who experiences a religious epiphany during an encounter with an aquarium porpoise. In “Miserere,” Stone uses a woman who smuggles aborted fetuses from a clinic to be baptized before burial in order to examine the concepts of fanaticism and faith. In the title story, an aging poet's gradual decline is horrifyingly hastened when a reunion with his estranged daughter goes terribly awry. Stone shifts his thematic focus almost entirely to religious themes in the novel Damascus Gate, presenting a detailed examination of the minutiae of Jewish theology and the unique messianic fervor of those who travel to Jerusalem, which Stone terms “Jerusalem Syndrome.” Though the protagonist of the story is a journalist named Christopher Lucas, the true central character of the novel is the teeming city of Jerusalem itself. A recent arrival in Jerusalem, Lucas is writing a book on the city's apocalyptic religious cults. In the course of his research, he becomes involved with Adam De Kuff, a manic-depressive native of New Orleans who believes that he is the Messiah. Lucas also falls in love with one of De Kuff's followers, Sonia Barnes, a young Sufi jazz singer who is half-Jewish and half-African American. Though the novel's main plot revolves around this trio, there are dozens of secondary characters and subplots involving fundamentalist Christians, Israeli settlers, Hamas operatives, Mossad agents, and, most importantly, a plot to bomb the Mosque on the Temple Mount. In 2003 Stone published Bay of Souls which follows the tribulations of Michael Ahearn, a middle-aged English professor living in Minnesota who experiences a mid-life crisis. Ahearn returns from a hunting trip to find his wife has been injured while rescuing their adolescent son who was freezing to death from exposure. Subsequently, Ahearn becomes infatuated with a female colleague, Lara Purcell, and follows her to a Caribbean island called St. Trinity. On the island, he witnesses a series of voodoo ceremonies in which Lara tries to reclaim the soul of her late brother, an AIDS victim. Ahearn also participates in a diving expedition to recover contraband from a sunken plane and inadvertently becomes involved in an island war and a military junta.

Critical Reception

Stone has been highly regarded by critics for his scathing critiques of political hypocrisy and moral ambiguity among 1960s-era radicals, revolutionaries, and artists. The overt social and political content of A Hall of Mirrors and Dog Soldiers has established him as a trenchant commentator on the anomie of contemporary American life in the wake of the Civil Rights movement and the Vietnam War. Reviewers have been impressed with Stone's broad erudition, as evident in novels such as A Flag for Sunrise and Damascus Gate, in which he grapples with the complexities of theology and religious belief. However, some have contended that Stone's work is often overly ambitious, arguing that certain novels—most notably Children of Light—have failed under the weight of his philosophical concerns. Many critics, however, have approved of Stone's efforts to raise political discourse to the level of moral discourse. Despite the occasional critical resistance to the bleakness of his worldview, Stone has received near universal praise for his technical abilities as a novelist, particularly his ability to create characters with genuine psychological depth. Even in Stone's least favored book, Children of Light, reviewers have still found his portrayal of the emotional decline of the two principals to be dramatically effective. Stone has also been regularly praised for his realistic dialogue, with critics noting that Stone's effective use of vernacular diction and slang enables him to portray the inner workings and social reality of his characters. Stone has additionally been commended for his literary craftsmanship, displayed in his ability to present lively action sequences and to navigate longer expository passages on topics such as the minutiae of sailing and the philosophical intricacies of Gnosticism. Several critics have considered Bay of Souls to be one of Stone's strongest efforts, citing his descriptive detail and precise narrative as highlights of the novel. Other reviewers have asserted that the plot suffered from too many plot threads and an overabundance of themes and adventures. Amy Wilentz, despite acknowledging that Stone “can create gasps of awe with his paragraphs,” has commented that “the taut line that should keep [Bay of Souls] moored is lost amid uncharted twists and turns.”

Principal Works

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

A Hall of Mirrors (novel) 1967

*WUSA (screenplay) 1970

Dog Soldiers (novel) 1974

Who'll Stop the Rain [with Judith Roscoe] (screenplay) 1978

A Flag for Sunrise (novel) 1981

Children of Light (novel) 1986

Outerbridge Reach (novel) 1992

Bear and His Daughter (short stories) 1997

Damascus Gate (novel) 1998

Bay of Souls (novel) 2003

*Stone's film adaptation of his novel A Hall of Mirrors.

†Stone's film adaptation of his novel Dog Soldiers....

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Maureen Karagueuzian (essay date winter 1983)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Karagueuzian, Maureen. “Irony in Robert Stone's Dog Soldiers.Critique: Studies in Contemporary Fiction 24, no. 2 (winter 1983): 65-73.

[In the following essay, Karagueuzian notes ironic parallels between Dog Soldiers and Ernest Hemingway's The Sun Also Rises, asserting that Stone underscores the inadequacy of Hemingway's moral and aesthetic vision by contrasting the nihilism and dissipation of Vietnam-era American drug-runners with Hemingway's expatriate Americans.]

The ironic tension in Robert Stone's second novel is powerful, but its sources are difficult to isolate, as one reviewer has pointed out, citing examples of statements...

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Frank W. Shelton (essay date winter 1983)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Shelton, Frank W. “Robert Stone's Dog Soldiers: Vietnam Comes Home to America.” Critique: Studies in Contemporary Fiction 24, no. 2 (winter 1983): 74-81.

[In the following essay, Shelton examines Stone's bleak evocation of moral disintegration and the demise of the American Dream in Dog Soldiers.]

Dog Soldiers (1974), the National Book Award winning novel by Robert Stone, remains arguably the best novelistic treatment of American involvement in Vietnam. Unlike such other recent novels as Tim O'Brien's Going after Cacciato (1978) and James Webb's Fields of Fire (1978) (both by former soldiers in Vietnam), Dog Soldiers does...

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Jeff Danziger (review date 17 March 1986)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Danziger, Jeff. “Disappointing Tale of Hollywood from Critically Acclaimed Robert Stone.” Christian Science Monitor (17 March 1986): 26.

[In the following review, Danziger criticizes Children of Light, asserting that the novel is filled with disturbing, greedy characters and a grim and depressing plot.]

Strangers to Robert Stone's depressing but critically acclaimed writing will find this novel [Children of Light] tough going at first and uncomfortably fractious after that. This is a vicious and annoying form of realism that gives us a set of characters who get no compassion from each other or their author. On location for a movie being shot...

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Richard Eder (review date 23 March 1986)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Eder, Richard. Review of Children of Light, by Robert Stone. Los Angeles Times Book Review (23 March 1986): 3.

[In the following review, Eder asserts that Children of Light suffers from overwritten characters, poor dialogue, and a plot that dissolves as the book progresses.]

[In Children of Light] Gordon Walker writes florid movie scripts and acts King Lear on the stage. He belongs to the Southern California beautiful-and-damned set. His life is a mess, his children are a mess, his wife has left, and he is off to Baja California to look up Lee Verger, a former beautiful-and-damned playmate, who is starring in a film based on one of his...

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Jeffrey Meyers (review date 10 October 1986)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Meyers, Jeffrey. “Suffering and Squalor.” National Review 38, no. 19 (10 October 1986): 57, 59.

[In the following review, Meyers compares Children of Light to Kate Chopin's The Awakening but faults Stone's novel for lacking the “depth and power” of his earlier works such as Dog Soldiers.]

Robert Stone is the master of desperate situations. His previous novels dealt with alcoholism in New Orleans, Vietnamese drugs in California, and revolution in Central America. All his books end in an apocalyptic bloodbath. “I want to deal with extremes of brutality,” Stone said in an interview, “[to show] that the innocent suffer at the hands of...

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Richard Eder (review date 1 March 1992)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Eder, Richard. “Against the Tides of Mediocrity.” Los Angeles Times Book Review (1 March 1992): 3, 5.

[In the following review, Eder alternately praises and faults Outerbridge Reach, calling the writing “lucid and thrilling” in its passages about the sea but “bombastic” in its development of certain characters and events.]

Even the climate in Outerbridge Reach speaks corruption. It declares America's decline in loyalty, valor, love, republican virtue, individual pride, sound workmanship and the tang of the wilderness. Global consumer greed equals global warming; it has been the mildest winter in 100 years: “The ambiguity of the...

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Robert M. Adams (review date 26 March 1992)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Adams, Robert M. “Fall of Valor.” New York Review of Books 39, no. 6 (26 March 1992): 29-30.

[In the following review, Adams offers a positive assessment of Outerbridge Reach, calling the work a “strong, unhappy novel.”]

The new book by Robert Stone is a tough Irish-American novel set mainly in and around New York harbor. Its themes are contemporary and touched with cruelty; its prose is as hard as that of John O'Hara, which is high praise. Though basically it is an action story, and Stone's considerable reputation is that of a hard-boiled suspense novelist, the reflective reader will find in the pages of Outerbridge Reach a good deal on...

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Mark Edmundson (review date 20 April 1992)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Edmundson, Mark. “America at Sea.” New Republic 206, no. 16 (20 April 1992): 42-5.

[In the following review, Edmundson contends that the reductive characters in Outerbridge Reach limit the depth and authenticity of the novel.]

Near the beginning of Children of Light, Robert Stone's fourth novel, which appeared in 1986, Gordon Walker sets out south from Los Angeles along the coastal road heading for Mexico and a disaster that he, through no particular virtue, manages to survive. Walker slows down to stop in a seedy little American town along the way: “At right angles to the coast road, garnished with a rank of rat-infested royal palms, ran...

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Christopher Caldwell (review date 27 April 1992)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Caldwell, Christopher. “The Intrepid Traveler.” National Review 44, no. 8 (27 April 1992): 49-50.

[In the following review, Caldwell praises Outerbridge Reach, commending Stone's moral concerns but citing weaknesses in the novel's narrative structure.]

Robert Stone's characters have cleaned up their act in the last two decades. In his National Book Award—winning Dog Soldiers (1974), for example, they worried about what routes to take to smuggle heroin out of Vietnam, how many Dilaudids to pop for breakfast, and what kind of automatic weaponry to bring to meet the police. In his newest book, Outerbridge Reach, they worry about...

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John Sutherland (review date 22 May 1992)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Sutherland, John. “In Dangerous Waters.” Times Literary Supplement, no. 4651 (22 May 1992): 28.

[In the following review, Sutherland criticizes Stone for failing to acknowledge his debt to the documented true story of ill-fated sailor Donald Crowhurst in Outerbridge Reach, upon which the novel is apparently based.]

Robert Stone started writing relatively late in life and has accumulated his now considerable reputation slowly. His first published novel, A Hall of Mirrors, came out in 1967. A study of moral decay in New Orleans, it established Stone as a Catholic novelist of the Greenian, “why this is hell, nor am I out of it” mould. A...

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Francis King (review date 23 May 1992)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: King, Francis. “The Tragedy of a Valour-Ruined Man.” Spectator 268, no. 8550 (23 May 1992): 36-7.

[In the following review, King extols the passages concerning the high-seas adventure in Outerbridge Reach and commends the “noble and grand scale” of the novel.]

In these days of radio communications, satellite tracking and helicopter rescue, to sail single-handed round the world is not as daunting an undertaking as once it used to be. But, as this fine American novel demonstrates, it is still daunting enough. It is particularly daunting for Owen Browne [in Outerbridge Reach], a graduate of the Annapolis naval academy and a Vietnam veteran,...

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Gordon Burn (review date 28 May 1992)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Burn, Gordon. “Where Mine Is At.” London Review of Books 14, no. 10 (28 May 1992): 20-1.

[In the following review, Burn discusses the links between Stone and Tom Wolfe and criticizes Stone's uncredited use of a published account of the Donald Crowhurst story in Outerbridge Reach.]

When Robert Stone's best-known novel, Dog Soldiers, was published in 1974, there was a small but significant overlap of material with The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test, Tom Wolfe's souped-up, superheated journalistic account of the beginnings of the counterculture, published six years earlier. The coincidence of material was in many ways inevitable. Stone had been part...

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Robert Phillips (review date autumn 1992)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Phillips, Robert. “Making Sense of What Takes Place.” Hudson Review 45, no. 3 (autumn 1992): 491-98.

[In the following excerpt, Phillips argues that Outerbridge Reach is a successfully engaging narrative due to Stone's use of meticulous detail.]

“I know of almost no pleasure greater than having a piece of fiction draw together disparate incidents so that they relate to one another and confirm that feeling that life itself is a creative process,” John Cheever wrote in one of his letters; “that one thing is put purposefully upon another, that what is lost in one encounter is replenished in the rest, and that we possess some power to make sense of...

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Jon Saari (review date fall 1992)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Saari, Jon. Review of Outerbridge Reach, by Robert Stone. Antioch Review 50, no. 4 (fall 1992): 771-72.

[In the following review, Saari contends that Stone is a “writer of rare power” who successfully examines the darker side of human nature in works such as Outerbridge Reach.]

This novel [Outerbridge Reach] continues the themes that run through all of Stone's books and reinforces why he is regarded as a writer of rare power. He persuades through his understanding of the darker side of human motivation, and his literary progenitors are clearly Melville and Hawthorne. In this new novel the classic themes of obsession and confrontation with the...

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George Packer (essay date winter 1993)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Packer, George. “Robert Stone: The Funny Apocalypse.” Dissent 40, no. 1 (winter 1993): 115-19.

[In the following essay, Packer provides an overview of Stone's novels, thematic concerns, and character types, noting that although Children of Light and Outerbridge Reach are weaker than his first three novels, Stone's visionary critique of American society remains underappreciated by a majority of critics.]

For a quarter century Robert Stone has been the American Baudelaire—poète maudit of Catholic mysticism and controlled substances, critic of modern folly, romantic pessimist in love with apocalypse. His five novels are all alike in...

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James Finn (essay date 5 November 1993)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Finn, James. “The Moral Vision of Robert Stone: The Transcendent in the Muck of History.” Commonweal 120, no. 19 (5 November 1993): 9-14.

[In the following essay, Finn provides an overview of Stone's novels and examines the strengths and weaknesses of his writing style, social and political concerns, and underlying religious sentiment.]

Robert Stone is a highly ambitious author whose reach sometimes exceeds his grasp. (But what's a writer's heaven for?) He is an imposingly confident writer whose self-assessments, nevertheless, sometimes seem off the mark. However, on the basis of his most recent novel it is clear that he is still on a rising trajectory...

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James D. Bloom (essay date fall 1995)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Bloom, James D. “Cultural Capital and Contrarian Investing: Robert Stone, Thom Jones, and Others.” Contemporary Literature 36, no. 3 (fall 1995): 490-507.

[In the following essay, Bloom discusses Stone's intertextual commentary on the uses and abuses of literary art in Outerbridge Reach, Children of Light, and A Flag for Sunrise. Bloom contends that Stone's fiction, like that of authors Thom Jones, Marilynne Robinson, and Don DeLillo, addresses the problematic legitimacy and interpretation of canonic writings and creative idols when appropriated by artists, critics, and filmmakers as a form of cultural capital.]

Robert Stone's 1986 novel...

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Robert Stone, David Pink, and Chuck Lewis (interview date fall 1995)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Stone, Robert, David Pink, and Chuck Lewis. “An Interview with Robert Stone.” Salmagundi 108 (fall 1995): 117-39.

[In the following interview, Stone discusses the creation and characters of Outerbridge Reach, his approach to writing, his moral, political, and artistic concerns, American poetry, the formal education of writers, and the difficulty of the writing life.]

We met with Robert Stone a couple of years ago at the Radisson Hotel in downtown Minneapolis, Minnesota. It was the last city in his national tour for Outerbridge Reach. He emerged from the lobby elevator wearing dark aviator glasses, a light dress shirt, gray slacks, and tennis...

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Robert S. Fredrickson (essay date summer 1996)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Fredrickson, Robert S. “Robert Stone's Decadent Leftists.” Papers on Language and Literature 32, no. 3 (summer 1996): 315-34.

[In the following essay, Fredrickson examines Stone's presentation of cynical, disillusioned left-wing sympathizers and amoral leftist revolutionaries in his novels, particularly Dog Soldiers and A Flag for Sunrise.]

That “the best lack all conviction while the worst are filled with passionate intensity”1—Yeats's conclusion early in this century—continues to apply, although now the best are bigger wimps, and the worst are more murderous. To Robert Stone, the disintegration of a viable left apparently figures...

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Erin McGraw (review date winter 1997)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: McGraw, Erin. “Larger Concerns.” Georgia Review 51, no. 4 (winter 1997): 782-92.

[In the following excerpt, McGraw lauds Bear and His Daughter, contending that Stone writes concisely and powerfully in stories containing familiar themes from his novels such as morality and motivation.]

Successful fiction achieves several balancing acts, including the balance of action against reflection, desire against restraint, simplicity against complexity. The last of these may be the trickiest, since it's easy for a writer who is working to shape and streamline a story to streamline the story's implications, too, and thereby to exclude larger issues of...

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Richard Eder (review date 6 April 1997)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Eder, Richard. “Seasick.” Los Angeles Times Book Review (6 April 1997): 2.

[In the following review, Eder claims that the character and plot development in Bear and His Daughter is uneven and faults Stone for failing to compel readers to care about the protagonists.]

Like the protagonist of his last novel, Outerbridge Reach, the principal characters in Robert Stone's short-story collection [Bear and His Daughter.] are single-hand sailors on a course to disaster.

It is not because the gales and currents of their existence are too powerful. Stone's blighted heroic vision proposes extreme hardship as the measure of a...

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Thomas R. Edwards (review date 9 October 1997)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Edwards, Thomas R. “Desperate Characters.” New York Review of Books 44, no. 15 (9 October 1997): 36-8.

[In the following review, Edwards provides an overview of Stone's fiction and offers a positive assessment of Bear and His Daughter.]

Of the novelists who came into their own in the eventful, scary Sixties. Robert Stone remains one of the most serious and truthful. At first the violent worlds he described may have seemed marginal and extreme, but time would show how close they were to the American grain. Bear and His Daughter is his first collection of stories, and their dates are not given. The dust jacket says they were written “between 1969 and...

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William H. Pritchard (review date winter 1998)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Pritchard, William H. “Actual Fiction.” Hudson Review 50, no. 4 (winter 1998): 656-64.

[In the following excerpt, Pritchard praises the descriptive passages and dark humor in Bear and His Daughter, contending that Stone is a competent short story writer but that his abilities are more suited to longer narratives.]

It was an extraordinary spring for fiction, as if all the established novelists, especially in this country, agreed to hand in their latest work by way of attesting to continuing vitality. Among others, Mailer, Bellow, Roth, and Pynchon—to name four senior citizens of the group—showed up at the fiction bazaar. (Only Updike decided to...

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Keith Miller (review date 23 January 1998)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Miller, Keith. “Messed-Up but Macho.” Times Literary Supplement, no. 4947 (23 January 1998): 21.

[In the following review, Miller praises Bear and His Daughter, asserting that Stone is a careful, polished writer who deserves to be read.]

Just because you're paranoid doesn't mean they're not out to get you. The insight would come as no surprise to the characters in Bear and His Daughter. Their mistrust and hostility towards life is deep-rooted and pathological, but almost invariably justified by events. The seven laconic tales of betrayal, psychosis and loss collected here evoke a chilly, fragmented, unhopeful culture on the brink of collapse....

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Cressida Connolly (review date 7 February 1998)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Connolly, Cressida. “An Explosion of Truth.” Spectator 280, no. 8844 (7 February 1998): 36.

[In the following review, Connolly offers a positive assessment of Bear and His Daughter, noting the critical trend to compare Stone's writing to that of Ernest Hemingway and Raymond Carver.]

This is not a book [Bear and His Daughter] for the squeamish. There are only seven short stories in the collection, but these few tales describe an array of horrors worthy of Greek tragedy: incest, adultery and patricide all put in an appearance. One story features aborted foetuses. Elsewhere, small children perish by falling through thin ice on a skating...

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James Hynes (review date 3 May 1998)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Hynes, James. “A Lost Soul in Israel.” Washington Post Book World (3 May 1998): 1, 10.

[In the following review, Hynes contends that Damascus Gate is ambitious, powerful, and “Dickensian” in its scope.]

Robert Stone's reputation as a political novelist is something of an oversimplification. The practice of politics in his novels is almost always desperate, bloody and futile. And there has been a strong spiritual undercurrent to Stone's work; his first three novels each open with a scene between a lost soul of one sort or another and a Christian missionary. Almost all of his books conclude with a major character in a desolate place, stripped of...

(The entire section is 895 words.)

Todd Gitlin (review date 11 May 1998)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Gitlin, Todd. “Crazy in Jerusalem.” Nation 266, no. 17 (11 May 1998): 50-2.

[In the following review, Gitlin argues that Damascus Gate is “overlong and overstuffed” with characters and subplots.]

It would be much too simple to say that a lot of Robert Stone's characters are stoned. Drugs are only their turnstiles. They get stoned, also, on going places they don't belong but can't stay away from. In six novels now, one of the major oeuvres in American letters of the past three decades, Stone is obsessed with the spiritual desperadoes, the overreachers, the uneasy riders, those who are tempted to go too far out—to madness, riches, prizes,...

(The entire section is 1744 words.)

Richard Eder (review date 17 May 1998)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Eder, Richard. “Millennium's Pursuit.” Los Angeles Times Book Review (17 May 1998): 2.

[In the following review, Eder commends the action, plot, and suspense in Damascus Gate but notes weaknesses in Stone's presentation of the novel's religious zealots.]

In Jerusalem's uniqueness—its beauty, the tremors it raises in visitors of whatever faith or faithlessness and the nakedness of light and profile that mock its labyrinthine complexities—architecture is war by other means. Every stone is a metaphor in three millennial stories or, by now, as stories breed and divide, in rival versions of each of them: Jewish quarrels over the Sabbath, the Wailing...

(The entire section is 1330 words.)

Hillel Halkin (review date 25 May 1998)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Halkin, Hillel. “The Jerusalem Syndrome.” New Republic 218, no. 21 (25 May 1998): 29-32.

[In the following review, Halkin criticizes Stone's superficial understanding of Israel and Jewish religious nationalism in Damascus Gate.]

Robert Stone is a first-rate writer of fiction. He may not have a voice that is unique, but the voice that he does have, while shared with others of his times, has been burnished to a fine tone: spare, tough, sharply observant, capable of genuine lyricism and tenderness. He is a man who has read widely and he cares deeply about his craft; and when one catches traces in his writing of the great originals—an undertone of Hemingway,...

(The entire section is 2696 words.)

James Gardner (review date 1 June 1998)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Gardner, James. “Apocalypse Now.” National Review 50, no. 10 (1 June 1998): 53-4.

[In the following review, Gardner provides a favorable assessment of Damascus Gate but notes shortcomings in the novel's lackluster protagonist and stereotyped characters.]

Robert Stone is surprisingly intelligent for a novelist. And what, the reader will ask, is that supposed to mean? In general, we expect our novelists to feel things rather than to know them. In practice, however, aside from those who endorse the hokey notion that you must write only about your own experiences, authors who evolve beyond the coming-of-age first novel must acquire new and special...

(The entire section is 1151 words.)

John Garvey (review date 5 June 1998)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Garvey, John. “Bleak, Thrilling, and Funny.” Commonweal 125, no. 11 (5 June 1998): 24-5.

[In the following review, Garvey argues that Damascus Gate succeeds both as a thriller and as an examination of spirituality, extolling its use of such elements as dark humor, adventure, and the quest for truth.]

Damascus Gate has a number of elements which will be familiar to Robert Stone's readers: drugs, alcohol, the threat of violence, death, and characters searching desperately for a meaning that eludes them. But this novel is unique in the way that it approaches, head-on, the theme that moves in the background of other Stone novels: a God who has...

(The entire section is 1206 words.)

Edward Hower (review date September 1998)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Hower, Edward. “A Parable for the Millennium.” World and I 13, no. 9 (September 1998): 255-62.

[In the following review, Hower asserts that Stone employs a wide myriad of characters, settings, and motifs in a successful blending of the thriller genre and the spiritual quest in Damascus Gate.]

Robert Stone's Israel crackles with religious and political tensions as a fascinating assortment of fanatics conspire to obliterate the nation in order to save it.

For Robert Stone, America's most eloquent chronicler of the impending apocalypse, Israel is an ideal setting. In Damascus Gate, his powerful new novel, he makes the country crackle...

(The entire section is 2428 words.)

James Wood (review date 1 October 1998)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Wood, James. “Ceaseless Anythings.” London Review of Books 20, no. 19 (1 October 1998): 33-4.

[In the following review, Wood faults Damascus Gate for being an amalgam of “techniques and conventions” aimed at maintaining simplicity, grouping Stone with a number of contemporary American realists preoccupied with this goal.]

American Realism, once a belief, is now an idle liberty. Writers such as Robert Stone, Joan Didion, John Irving and even Don DeLillo, are praised for their ‘realism’, for the solidity of their plots, the patience of their characterisation, the capillary spread of their social portraits, the leverage of their political...

(The entire section is 2504 words.)

Paul Quinn (review date 30 October 1998)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Quinn, Paul. “All Things to All Men.” Times Literary Supplement, no. 4987 (30 October 1998): 26.

[In the following review, Quinn claims that Damascus Gate contains flat language, too many plots and characters, and fails in its aspirations as a thriller.]

A great deal of profoundly fractured cerebration had gone down in Vietnam. People had been by turns Fascist mystics, Communist revolutionaries and junkies; at certain times, certain people had managed to be all three at once. It was the nature of the time. …

The above quotation from Robert Stone's A Flag for Sunrise (1977) can be read as...

(The entire section is 2162 words.)

Michael Hulse (review date 31 October 1998)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Hulse, Michael. “All Fortune Cookies to Him.” Spectator 281, no. 8882 (31 October 1998): 50.

[In the following review, Hulse criticizes Damascus Gate, claiming that Stone fails to “come to terms” with his religious subject matter in the novel and that the narrative is unconvincing.]

This new novel by the author of Dog Soldiers is so unsatisfying that the enthusiasm with which it has been received in the United States appears truly bewildering. A novel set in Jerusalem enjoys the kudos, no doubt, of having broached avowedly difficult material. And Stone has a reputation. But his inability in Damascus Gate to convert research into...

(The entire section is 627 words.)

Jeoffrey S. Bull (essay date spring 1999)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Bull, Jeoffrey S. “‘What about a Problem That Doesn't Have a Solution?’ Stone's A Flag for Sunrise, DeLillo's Mao II, and the Politics of Political Fiction.” Critique: Studies in Contemporary Fiction 40, no. 3 (spring 1999): 215-29.

[In the following excerpt, Bull discusses the political dimension of the novel form and examines the presence of ideological impasses in Stone's A Flag for Sunrise and Don DeLillo's Mao II, wherein crises of politics, religion, and morality are shown to have no apparent solutions.]

The political novel, says Irving Howe, is a work of fiction alive with the “internal tensions” born of abstract...

(The entire section is 5205 words.)

Mark Saunders (review date summer 1999)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Saunders, Mark. “From New Orleans to Jerusalem.” Sewanee Review 107, no. 3 (summer 1999): xc-xci.

[In the following review, Saunders offers praise for both Stone's ability to tie up loose plot threads in Damascus Gate and for clearly delineating a large cast of characters in a political thriller.]

On first inspection Robert Stone's six novels don't fit the broken mold of postmodern experiment and obsession with American popular culture that marks his contemporaries. After his first novel, A Hall of Mirrors (1966), which depicts, in terms at once realistic and satiric, a New Orleans mad with racial strife, Stone put himself and his...

(The entire section is 889 words.)

Robert S. Fredrickson (essay date winter 2000)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Fredrickson, Robert S. “Robert Stone's Opium of the People: Religious Ambivalence in Damascus Gate.Papers on Language and Literature 36, no. 1 (winter 2000): 42-57.

[In the following essay, Fredrickson examines Stone's religious preoccupations and spiritually bereft protagonists in Damascus Gate, as they represent a reprise and elaboration of Stone's theological speculations and portraits of alienated leftists in previous novels.]

That Robert Stone has written another novel, Damascus Gate, with a central figure resembling those drugged and detached men of his earlier work leads us to ponder why he repeatedly so situates his readers in...

(The entire section is 5343 words.)

Kirkus Reviews (review date 1 January 2003)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Review of Bay of Souls, by Robert Stone. Kirkus Reviews 71, no. 1 (1 January 2003): 24.

[In the following review, the critic calls Bay of Souls “a small masterpiece,” contending that the novel is spare, intense, and clear.]

Faulknerian intensity and a narrative economy reminiscent of Hemingway distinguish Stone's bloodcurdling seventh outing [Bay of Souls], a tale that charts a midwestern college professor's compulsive path toward self-destruction.

In a magnificent opening chapter, Stone introduces Michael Ahearn, living in Iron Falls, Minnesota, with his wife Kristin and preadolescent son Paul, and seeking the kind of...

(The entire section is 336 words.)

Amy Wilentz (review date 20 April 2003)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Wilentz, Amy. “Voodoo But No Real Magic.” Los Angeles Times Book Review (20 April 2003): 4.

[In the following review, Wilentz compliments Stone's abilities as a writer but faults Bay of Souls for what she contends is a weak plot and a preoccupation with spirituality.]

The title of Robert Stone's new novel, Bay of Souls, is evocative of other times, of thwarted adventurers on the high seas, of midnight attacks, of political intrigue and spies, of palm trees and beaches under the moon and important moral imperatives. Say “Bay of …” to Americans of a certain age, and they'll know how to finish the phrase.

Stone is one of...

(The entire section is 1463 words.)

Robert Stone and David L. Ulin (interview date 30 April 2003)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Stone, Robert, and David L. Ulin. “Considering Chaos.” Los Angeles Times (30 April 2003): E8.

[In the following interview, Stone discusses his past and the inspirations behind Bay of Souls.]

On a recent Tuesday afternoon, Le Meridien Hotel in Beverly Hills looks like a setting from a Robert Stone novel, a study in contrasts, in silence and movement, in darkness and light. In the back of the lobby, the hotel bar sprawls like some abandoned post-colonial outpost, empty except for CNN beaming the latest images from Iraq.

A few feet away, a Japanese model poses before a fountain. As a photographer circles deliberately, like a predator,...

(The entire section is 1318 words.)

Further Reading

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)


Bell, Millicent. “Fiction Chronicle.” Partisan Review 66, no. 3 (1999): 417-30.

Bell praises Stone's depiction of the city of Jerusalem in Damascus Gate but faults the author for attempting to force too many characters, plots, movements, politics, and detail into one novel.

Bell, Pearl K. “Fiction Chronicle.” Partisan Review 59, no. 2 (1992): 282-95.

Bell offers a negative assessment of Outerbridge Reach, asserting that it contains overbearing metaphors and overt symbolism.

Blumenthal, Ralph. “A Novelist Who Stalks Authenticity.” New York Times (26 May...

(The entire section is 407 words.)