Sunday, January 11, 2015

Robert Stone, Novelist Inspired by War, Dies at 77

Ed here: Stone suffered from the Graham Greene problem--yes he was a brilliant novelist but he was also a brilliant storyteller. There are Those who distrust this combination, notably, as William Goldman maintains, The Nobel Prize Committee.

Robert Stone, Novelist Inspired by War, Dies at 77
From the New York Times

Robert Stone, the naturalist author whose satirical epics explored the underside of American life, died on Saturday at his winter home in Key West, Fla. He was 77.
His agent, Neil Olson, said the cause was chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. Mr. Stone was previously given a diagnosis of emphysema.
Mr. Stone won the National Book Award for his second novel, “Dog Soldiers,” in 1975, was a two-time finalist for the Pulitzer Prize and received many other literary fellowships, prizes and recognitions.
“Dog Soldiers,” published soon after the conclusion of the Vietnam War, was about a war correspondent caught up in a heroin-smuggling operation.
Two decades later, The New York Times’s book critic William H. Pritchard wrote that its appeal was in the connections it made between folly and violence in Southeast Asia and American counterculture in the 1960s and 1970s.
The book shared the 1975 National Book Award with “The Hair of Harold Roux” by Thomas Williams, and was adapted as a film, “Who’ll Stop the Rain,” starring Nick Nolte in 1978.
Mr. Stone followed with several more novels, including “A Flag for Sunrise” in 1981, “Outerbridge Reach” in 1992, and “Damascus Gate” in 1998. He wrote a memoir in 2007, “Prime Green: Remembering the Sixties,” about his years in California as one of Ken Kesey’s Merry Pranksters.
His last works were the dark humored short-story collection “Fun With Problems” in 2010 and the 2013 novel, “Death of the Black-Haired Girl.”
Mr. Stone was born on Aug. 21, 1937, in Brooklyn. He was raised by his mother, a New York City schoolteacher, until the age of 6, when she was institutionalized for schizophrenia. His father had abandoned the family soon after his son’s birth. Mr. Stone lived in a Catholic orphanage until the age of 10.
He was a rebellious teenager who was kicked out of a Marist high school during his senior year. He joined the Navy for four years, sailing to places like Antarctica and Egypt.
He drew on his hardscrabble upbringing in his work, where war served as a principle metaphor for human life. A two-month stint in Vietnam for a British journal in 1971 served as the inspiration for “Dog Soldiers,"and “A Flag for Sunrise” focused on characters whose lives collided in a Central American republic modeled on Nicaragua.
“It’s literally true that the world is seen by the superpowers as a grid of specific targets,” he told The Paris Review in 1985. “We’re all on military maps. There happens to be no action in those zones at present, but they’re there. And then there are the wars we fight with ourselves in our own cities. It is the simple truth that, wherever you are, there is an armed enemy present, not far away.”
In the same interview, he said he was inspired to begin writing novels in his 20s after rereading “The Great Gatsby.”
“I decided I knew a few meanings; I understood patterns in life,” he said. “I figured, I can’t sell this understanding, or smoke it, so I will write a novel.”
In 1966, he published his first novel, “A Hall of Mirrors.” Set in New Orleans in 1962, the book depicted a political scene dominated by racism. It won a Houghton Mifflin Literary Fellowship and a William Faulkner Foundation Award for notable first novel, and was adapted as a film, “WUSA,” released in 1970.
His survivors include his wife of 55 years, Janice, and their two adult children, Deirdre and Ian.
A version of this article appears in print on January 11, 2015, on page A20 of the New York edition with the headline: Robert Stone, Novelist Inspired by War, Dies at 77. Order Reprints| Today's Paper|Subscribe


Mathew Paust said...

Brilliant, indeed. I understand he lived hard, too. Didn't know of his memoir or that he was a Merry Prankster. Must find that book.

As to the "handicap" of being a storyteller, here's what Scott Turow said about that: "The one thing I would like more credit for is being part of a movement which involves recognising the importance of plot and asserting that books of literary worth could be written that had plots."

Mathew Paust said...

Just downloaded Prime Green on Kindle for $1.99. Some great photos included.