Stone, Robert (Anthony)

views updated Jun 11 2018

STONE, Robert (Anthony)

Nationality: American. Born: Brooklyn, New York, 21 August 1937. Education: New York University, 1958-59; Stanford University, California (Stegner fellow, 1962). Military Service: Served in the United States Navy, 1955-58. Family: Married Janice G. Burr in 1959; one daughter and one son. Career: Editorial assistant, New York Daily News, 1958-60; writer-in-residence, Princeton University, New Jersey, 1971-72; taught at Amherst College, Massachusetts, 1972-75, 1977-78, Stanford University, 1979, University of Hawaii, Manoa, 1979-80, Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1981, University of California, Irvine, 1982, and San Diego, 1985, New York University, 1983, Princeton University, 1985; Johns Hopkins University, 1993-94; and since 1994, Yale University. Awards: Houghton Mifflin Literary fellowship, 1967; Faulkner Foundation award, 1967; Guggenheim grant, 1968; National Book award, 1975; Dos Passos prize, 1982; American Academy award, 1982; National Endowment for the Arts fellowship, 1983; Strauss Living award, 1987. Agent: Donadio and Ashworth, 121 West 27th Street, New York, New York 10001, U.S.A.



A Hall of Mirrors. Boston, Houghton Mifflin, 1967; London, BodleyHead, 1968.

Dog Soldiers. Boston, Houghton Mifflin, 1974; London, Secker andWarburg, 1975.

A Flag for Sunrise. New York, Knopf, and London, Secker andWarburg, 1981.

Children of Light. New York, Knopf, and London, Deutsch, 1986.

Outerbridge Reach. New York, Ticknor and Fields, and London, Deutsch, 1992.

Damascus Gate. Boston, Houghton Mifflin, 1998.

Short Stories

Bear and His Daughter: Stories. Boston, Houghton Mifflin, 1997.

Uncollected Short Stories

"Geraldine," in Twenty Years of Stanford Short Stories, edited byWallace Stegner and Richard Scowcroft. Stanford, California, Stanford University Press, 1966.

"Farley the Sailor," in Saturday Evening Post (Philadelphia), 14January 1967.

"Thunderbolts in Red, White, and Blue," in Saturday Evening Post (Philadelphia), 28 January 1967.

"A Hunter in the Morning," in American Review 26, edited byTheodore Solotaroff. New York, Bantam, 1977.

"WUSA," in On the Job, edited by William O'Rourke. New York, Vintage, 1977.

"War Stories," in Harper's (New York), May 1977.

"Not Scared of You," in Gentlemen's Quarterly (New York), March1989.



WUSA, 1970; Who'll Stop the Rain, with JudithRascoe, 1978.


Images of War, edited by Julene Fischer. Boston, Boston PublishingCompany, 1986.


Critical Studies:

Robert Stone by Robert Solotaroff, New York, Twayne Publishers and Toronto, Maxwell Macmillan Canada, 1994.

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Robert Stone combines old-fashioned concernsthe morality of human behavior, the responsibility of choice, the relationship between the individual and historywith topical interestsracism in the U.S., the war in Vietnam, American involvement in Latin-American revolutionsto produce fiction that is both emotionally engaging and thought provoking.

A Hall of Mirrors, Stone's first novel, tells the story of three rootless drifters whose paths converge in New Orleans: Rheinhardt, an alcoholic ex-musician; Geraldine, a battered woman; and Morgan Rainey, an idealistic social worker. Victims both of circumstance and of their own self-destructiveness, the trio is eventually caught up in an orgy of violence touched off by a patriotic rally sponsored by the owner of right-wing radio station WUSA, where Rheinhardt works. The final third of the novel is devoted to a nightmarish description of the rally and the ensuing riot (portrayed in almost hallucinatory language), which leaves nineteen persons dead. The apocalyptic conclusion is reminiscent of the movie premiere riot that ends Nathaniel West's The Day of the Locust, but Stone's version of Armageddon has its roots not so much in the unrealized longings of the alienated outsider as in the racism and fanatical right-wing extremism he sees poisoning American society in the 1960s.

Dog Soldiers centers on the desperate flight of Ray Hicks, an ex-marine, and Marge Converse, wife of Hicks's friend John Converse, a journalist on assignment in Vietnam, to escape the narcotics agents who are after the three kilos of heroin Hicks smuggled into California from Vietnam. Exciting as the narrative is, Dog Soldiers is much more than an adventure thriller, for by showing that the action is set in motion by events which have their origin in Vietnam where the novel begins, Stone links the madness of the war depicted in the early sections with the tragic fallout it has at home.

The novel begins with a quotation from Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness, a work which has strongly influenced Dog Soldiers. Like Conrad, who saw in Kurtz's ivory a symbol of man's "rapacious and pitiless folly," Stone uses heroin as a symbol of his characters' obsessions and of the war's tragic cost. In Vietnam Converse finds himself, as Kurtz did in the African jungle, torn loose from all the conventional supports of civilized society. Afloat emotionally and morally, he turns to heroin as a way of asserting himself ("This is the first real thing I ever did in my life," he declares), but his decision will soon prove to have costly consequences as the heroin's deadly poison begins to spread.

Like A Hall of Mirrors, Dog Soldiers concludes with an apocalyptic finale, a shootout between Hicks and the federal agents pursuing him, the action punctuated by the recorded sounds of combat amplified over loudspeakers set up around the mountain compound where the scene occurs. By reminding the reader of the actual battle taking place in Vietnam, Stone underscores the relationship between the war in Asia and its consequences at home. Also, he makes the point that here, as in Vietnam, it is difficult to tell the good guys from the bad buys: Antheil, the government agent who ends up with the heroin at the end, decides to keep it and use it for his own profit. In Stone's view, there are no victors; everyone is corrupted by the poison.

A Flag for Sunrise is Stone's most ambitious and successful novel to date. Set in the fictional Central American country of Tecan, it features the stories of three Americans, each with his own reason for coming to the country: Sister Justin Feeney, a devoted young Roman Catholic nun who runs a local mission; Frank Holliwell, an anthropologist who declines the request of a CIA buddy to look into the situation at the mission, but whose curiosity compels him to go anyway; and Pablo Tabor, a paranoid, pill-popping soldier of fortune whose thirst for excitement leads to his involvement in the dangerous business of gun-running to the Tecanecan revolutionaries. Inexorably, the fates of all three Americans become intertwined, just as, Stone suggests, America itself has gotten itself involved in the fate of this ravaged little country.

The novel represents Stone's most effective attempt at incorporating political issueshere the economic, military, political, and cultural roles the U.S. is playing in Latin American countriesand personal onesindividual commitment and responsibility for one's actions. By examining a variety of motives ranging from the simple purity of Sr. Justin's desire to help the poor, a commitment for which she is willing to die, to Holliwell's feckless drifting, to the combination of "circumstance, coincidence, impulse, and urging" that has driven a host of other characters (e.g., whiskey priests, journalists, CIA agents, resort developers, soldiers of fortune) to Tecan, Stone exposes the reasons which have led the U.S. itself to an active involvement in the affairs of undeveloped countries like Tecan.

Children of Light, a satirical novel about Hollywood and filmmaking, fails to measure up to the best of that genre (i.e. novels like Day of the Locust or Play It as It Lays ), nor does it measure up to Stone's previous books. The novel features some brilliant flashes of satire at Hollywood's expense, and Stone's ear for absurd dialogue among the film types is well-tuned. In actress Lu Anne Verger, Stone also paints an affecting portrait of a schizophrenic whose tormented psyche finally overwhelms her during the filming of Kate Chopin's The Awakening on location in Mexico. But talk largely replaces action in this novel and Children of Light lacks the dramatic intensity and moral dimension that characterizes Stone's best work.

Stone returns to familiar philosophical and moral territory in Outerbridge Reach as he continues to explore such weighty issues as truth, honesty, self-knowledge, and betrayal. Owen Browne is a fortyish copywriter and commercial spokesman for a pleasure boat manufacturer. He is unexpectedly presented with an opportunity for the kind of adventure he sees as an antidote to his mid-life restlessness when his company names him to sail their entry in a solo around-the-world race. Alone at sea, he encounters, like Kurtz in Conrad's Heart of Darkness, the awesome challenge of isolation. In the process he discovers hidden truths about himself that have dire consequences for him and profound repercussions for the two other principals in the novel: his wife Anne and Ron Strickland, a filmmaker shooting a documentary about Browne's adventure. As in all his best work, Stone's sure control over language, character, and narrative produces dramatic and ambitious fiction of the highest order.

Though the seven stories (written over a thirty-year period) collected in Bear and His Daughter lack the thematic complexity of Stone's novels, they too illustrate his gifts as a writer. The best of them ("Helping," "Under the Pitons," and the title story) feature fascinating characters, powerful prose, and scenes fraught with tension, all hallmarks of Stone's longer fiction.

Stone's familiar apocalyptic themes find their perfect location in Jerusalem, the setting for Damascus Gate. The time is 1992 and the city is unsettled by political unrest (represented by the intifada, the Palestinian uprising against Israeli occupation, as well as a conspiracy to blow up the Islamic holy sites on the Temple Mount) and a steady influx of religious fanatics drawn to the Holy City in anticipation of the end of the millennium. At the center of the action is Christopher Lucas, an American writer researching a book on religious cults in the city. The novel features a much larger cast of characters than usual as Stone attempts to capture the crazy quilt of shifting religious identities and political alliances represented in the city. It is sometimes difficult to keep track of the diverse characters and their religious and political affiliations, which only serves to underscore the baffling complexity that characterizes Jerusalem. Stone's unwieldy cast of characters often overwhelms the narrative, with Lucas functioning more as a link connecting the disparate characters than as the central focus of the novel's moral and political themes, as Stone's protagonists ordinarily do. Ultimately, it is the city itself, brilliantly rendered in all its ancient beauty and contemporary mystery, that dominates the novel and it, rather than any of the characters, best symbolizes the confusing uncertainties of modern life that is Stone's recurring theme.

David Geherin

Robert Anthony Stone

views updated May 17 2018

Robert Anthony Stone

Robert Anthony Stone (born 1937) was an American novelist whose preoccupations were politics, the media, and the random, senseless violence and cruelty that pervade contemporary life both in the United States and in parts of the world where United States' influence has extended, such as Latin America and Vietnam. His vision of the world is dark but powerful.

Robert Anthony Stone was born in Brooklyn, New York, on August 21, 1937, to C. Homer and Gladys Catherine (Grant) Stone. His mother had been a teacher, but her career was cut short by schizophrenia. Her husband having deserted his family, she supported herself and her son by working as a chambermaid. The two lived in a succession of rooming houses and welfare hotels. Stone attended a parochial school, Archbishop Malloy High School, until he was asked to leave because of truancy and atheistic beliefs.

For a year he lived in New Orleans, which was later to provide the setting for his first novel. It was here that he joined the Navy in 1955. He was discharged in 1958, and the following year he married Janice C. Burr, a social worker. The couple had two children, Ian and Deirdre. He studied for one year at New York University and then attended Stanford.

His first novel, A Hall of Mirrors (1967), won him the William Faulkner Foundation Award. In 1982 he was awarded the John Dos Passos Prize for literature, and he also won an award for literature from the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters. He taught at various colleges and universities, including Harvard. He lived in the early 1990s in Amherst.

The mirrors to which A Hall of Mirrors alluded are a recurring theme in the novel. The various characters bear either physical or psychological scars, and Stone seems to be saying that mirrors reflect the scars that life has bestowed on us but that they do not show how or why we have obtained those scars. Rheinhardt, the protagonist of the novel, is a musician who finds employment in New Orleans with a high-powered, right-wing evangelist and radio station owner who uses the air waves to mercilessly exploit his listeners and employees in the furtherance of his ideas.

In the 1960s Stone came to know many of the figures of the Beat Generation—Allen Ginsberg, Neal Cassady, and others. He joined in the famous cross-country bus ride of the Merry Pranksters, a ride described hilariously by Tom Wolfe in his book The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test. A fellow passenger on the bus was Ken Kesey, author of One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, with whom he formed a long-lasting friendship. Not surprisingly, Stone experimented with drugs and later attributed the discovery of a spiritual aspect of his life to this experimentation.

Not even his earlier experiments with drugs, however, were able to prepare him for what he found in Saigon (now Ho Chi Minh City), Vietnam, where he traveled in 1971 and from where he sent a series of reports to the Manchester Guardian. Out of his first-hand observations of the drug trade came his classic novel Dog Soldiers (1974), which helped to establish his reputation as a writer. This novel was later made into the movie Who'll Stop the Rain (1978) staring Nick Nolte, Tuesday Weld, and Michael Moriarty.

Stone wrote out of his own experience. For him, fiction was another way to get at the truth without being fettered by facts. He said that fiction purifies reality, renders it into the insubstantiality of the dream, and there is certainly a dreamlike quality in all of his writing. As early as A Hall of Mirrors this aspect is evident. His handling of the episode involving Rheinhardt's adventures in Lake Ponchartrain takes on a quality so primordial as to suggest that the shock of recognition which the reader experiences may well be owing to the collective unconscious, which by definition is common to all humanity.

A Flag for Sunrise (1982) grew out of three visits which Stone made to Nicaragua, the first of which was undertaken merely as a scuba diving vacation. He was repelled by the casual and pervasive use of violence that characterized the Somoza regime. In the novel, however, Stone created his own country. In one especially graphic episode Father Egan, an American missionary who is one of the chief characters of the novel, is asked by an army officer to dispose of the body of a young American girl. The officer, who has murdered her, has stuffed her body into his refrigerator. The novel abounds in atrocities.

Children of Light (1986) deals with the film industry and is set in Hollywood, or at least part of it is. It is as bleak as his other works. Other American authors have also written novels about Hollywood—F. Scott Fitzgerald, Nathanael West, Norman Mailer—and though there may have been a comic moment here or there, theirs have been as grim as his.

Stone believed that humor can mitigate the cruelty of human existence. He was serious about the craft of writing and considered that there is an indissoluble connection between fiction and morality, and that for that reason, the writer must do his best and never pander to political or commercial considerations. In other words, fiction must not corrupt itself, for in its pure state, it links humanity together and helps overcome isolation. In times of various kinds of disorder and upheaval, as for instance revolution and war, he saw the individual as being subsumed in the group; nevertheless, the individual comes to see himself at such a time for what he is. Stone seems to have applied this credo to his own work. Though his work often deals with violence, he never sensationalizes it. It is there to show the darker side of human existence, but one is sure that Stone hopes to see humankind rise above individual violence and war.

Other works by Stone included Outerbridge Reach (1992) and Bear and His Daughter (1997), both published by Houghton-Mifflin. Bear and His Daughter represented a departure from Stone's novel writing and was a collection of six previously published short stories plus a new novella for which the volume is named.

Further Reading

Additional information on Robert Stone can be found in Eric James Schroeder, "Two Interviews: Talks with Tim O'Brien and Robert Stone," in Modern Fiction Studies (Spring 1984), and in Robert Stone, "The Reason for Stories: Toward a Moral Fiction," Harper's (June 1988), which is about his ideas on fiction. Paul Gray provides a lengthy review of Bear and His Daughter in Time magazine (April 7, 1997). □

Stone, Robert (Anthony)

views updated Jun 11 2018

STONE, Robert (Anthony)

STONE, Robert (Anthony). American, b. 1937. Genres: Novels, Plays/ Screenplays. Career: Editorial Assistant, New York Daily News, 1958-60; Writer-in-Residence, Princeton University, NJ, 1971-72, 1985; taught at Amherst College, MA, 1972-75, 1977-78, Stanford University, California, 1979, University of Hawaii, Manoa, 1979-80, Harvard University, Cambridge, MA, 1981, University of California at Irvine, 1982, New York University, NYC, 1983-84, University of California at San Diego, 1985, Johns Hopkins University, 1993; Yale University, 1994. Publications: A Hall of Mirrors, 1967; Dog Soldiers, 1974; (with J. Rascoe) Who'll Stop the Rain (screenplay), 1978; A Flag for Sunrise, 1981; Children of Light, 1986; Outer- bridge Reach, 1992; Bear & His Daughter (collection), 1997; Damascus Gate, 1998; Bay of Souls, 2003.