Books by Robert Stone

Released: June 4, 2019

"A brisk narrative, deft anecdotes, and abundant illustrations enliven a well-researched history."
In an informative companion book to the PBS miniseries of the same name, documentary filmmaker Stone, the program's writer, producer, and director, and Andres, a consulting producer and researcher on the series, chronicle the quest for space travel that culminated in Neil Armstrong's first step on the lunar surface. Read full book review >
Released: Nov. 12, 2013

"An unusual but poised mix of noir and town-and-gown novel, bolstered by Stone's well-honed observational skills."
The death of a star student at an upper-crust university unsettles friends, faculty and family in a piercing novel from veteran novelist Stone (Fun With Problems, 2010, etc.). Read full book review >
Released: Jan. 11, 2010

" Vintage Stone. Enough said."
Alienated, angry outsiders stalk the dangerous edges of their unraveling lives in the great American novelist's collection of grim short fiction. Read full book review >
PRIME GREEN by Robert Stone
Released: Jan. 9, 2007

"An excellent piece of work, and an invaluable gloss on a body of fiction that looks more prescient, and important, as the decades pass."
Stone's first nonfiction book is a memoir of the decade when he came of age and absorbed experiences transformed into such memorable novels as Dog Soldiers (1974), Outerbridge Reach (1992) and Bay of Souls (2003). Read full book review >
BAY OF SOULS by Robert Stone
Released: April 22, 2003

"A small masterpiece, possessed of a relentless lucidity that recalls Conrad and Graham Greene at their peaks. Stone's best yet."
Faulknerian intensity and a narrative economy reminiscent of Hemingway distinguish Stone's bloodcurdling seventh outing (Damascus Gate, 1998, etc.), a tale that charts a midwestern college professor's compulsive path toward self-destruction. Read full book review >
DAMASCUS GATE by Robert Stone
Released: May 14, 1998

Stone's inordinately ambitious sixth novel, which in several surface ways resembles his A Flag for Sunrise (1981), grapples with intractable issues of political and religious faith, compromise, and betrayal. Set in the early 1990s in a meticulously rendered Jerusalem, it explores the tangled relationships among a number of settlers and visitors to the Holy City who become involved in one or both of two diametrically opposed "missions": a plan, spearheaded by "a Christian study group," the House of the Galilean, to rebuild the Temple of Herod (thereby enticing the Messiah to reappear); and a bombing plot, undertaken by zealots from several "camps," "to destroy the enemy shrines on the Temple Mount." The fulcrum on which these contrasting actions pivot is focal character Christopher Lucas, an independent journalist, nonpracticing Catholic and half-Jewish, whose compulsive search for something to believe in leads him to an assignment investigating "Jerusalem Syndrome" (a clinically recognized species of religious mania), and to complicated relations with several other achingly conflicted fellow travelers. Among them: jazz singer Sonia Barnes ("biracial, the child of old lefties"), a devotee of Sufi mysticism; American-Jewish musician, drug addict, and visionary Raziel Melker (a fascinating compound of destructive and healing tendencies); and Adam De Kuff, a wealthy drifter whose immersion in Kabbalistic wisdom turns him into what many accept as a messianic prophet. These, and a dozen or so other superbly realized characters, combine in a series of dramatic actions that demonstrate the truth lodged in Lucas's dangerously exfoliating investigations: "To liberate into the world the ultimate goodness of God and man, it was necessary to walk deep into the labyrinth." Only Stone's tendency to overexplain unfamiliar religious concepts occasionally relaxes this big novel's powerful grip on the reader; and even in its most discursive passages, the intensity of its characters' emotions maintains high interest and irresistibly mounting suspense. Stone's boldest and, arguably, best novel is this year's Mason & Dixon or Underworld. Not to be missed. Read full book review >
Released: April 2, 1997

A vibrant first collection from the award-winning author of, most recently, Outerbridge Reach (1992) and other thoughtful and powerful novels. The landscapes of drug addiction and war and its aftermath are depicted with rueful wit and furious intensity in these seven strongly imagined tales, written between 1969 and the present. Even in "Miserere," whose narrative premise (an embittered widow insists that aborted fetuses receive the church's blessing) strains credulity, Stone hooks us with sharp, convincing characterizations. His stories, like his novels, pulse with barely restrained tension: You feel his characters are about to explode. "Aquarius Obscured," an abrasively funny early piece, subjects its strung-out heroine to the "fascist" fulminations of a talking dolphin. Two other stories reveal the violent transformative consequences of drug-running operations, combining Hemingway-like vigor with Kafkaesque despair. The title novella, which traces the downward progression of an alcoholic poet reunited with the grown daughter who blames her own drinking and emotional problems on their longtime troubled relationship, moves with remarkable and implacable swiftness to a devastating climax; it's a compact Greek tragedy set in the Nevada mountains. "Helping" and "Absence of Mercy" trace with harrowing precision the sufferings of men shaped and trapped by the centrality of violence in their earlier lives, as it comes back to haunt them. Stone writes two kinds of scenes better than any other American novelist: summary descriptions of the whole shape and thrust of his characters' lives, and disturbingly visceral accounts of confrontations between his protagonists and their various demons. There are many such scenes here. For dramatic immediacy and emotional power, Stone has few contemporary peers, and no superiors: altogether, an impressive debut collection that will further whet appetites eager for his next novel, expected later this year. Read full book review >
Released: Nov. 12, 1992

Stone, in an agreeably short, scholarly, assured preface, makes note that nine of the twenty choices here come from The New Yorker because "while The New Yorker is still able to attract first-rate submissions, the days are past when there was such a thing as a 'New Yorker story.'" He also notes that his choices "reflect what is probably the most significant development in late-twentieth-century American fiction, the renewal and revitalization of the realist mode....As of 1992, American writers seem ready to accept traditional forms without self-consciousness in dealing with the complexity of the world around them." Both assertions, given the quality of the stories included here, seem plausible if a tad sweeping and optimistic. The highlights—Alice Munro's remarkably synoptic, world-in-a-glass "Carried Away"; Mavis Gallant's intimist accretion of details, "Across the Bridge"; Thom Jones's remarkable war story, "The Pugilist at Rest"; and Denis Johnson's coruscating "Emergency"—all come from one magazine but bear no stylistic gene in common save excellence. And Stone has also picked quite good stories by Alice Adams, Joyce Carol Oates, and Tobias Woolf—stories in which known-quantity writers seem to surprise themselves, as well as us, with supple swerves of voice and angle. Thomas Beller's "A Different Kind of Imperfection"—a young man coming to grips with his father's ghost in the form of words underlined in one of the father's books—is a fine introduction to this young, meditative writer; as is Amy Bloom's "Silver Water," a clear call to pay attention. A better-than-usual collection. Read full book review >
Released: March 1, 1992

Stone's best book since Dog Soldiers, and arguably even better. An Annapolis grad and Vietnam vet, now a sailboat salesman in Connecticut, the elegant and thoughtful Owen Browne finds himself enrolled in a grand adventure—sailing solo around the world—after his millionaire boat-maker boss, who was meant to make the sail, disappears under shady circumstances. A cynical documentary filmmaker, Strickland, will make a movie of this voyage—sure that Owen's WASP uprightness and natural election will unravel under the stress. It is to be partly a movie that Owen himself will shoot at sea, and that Strickland will augment with interviews with Owen's lovely but quietly desperate and alcoholic wife, Anne, as well as with the various corporate players in what Strickland sees as just another corporate-American public-relations show. Owen goes uneasily off to sea (he is a clumsy, only half- competent sailor, but Vietnam has left him with a reckoning with truth and courage still unfulfilled), and Strickland commences his film—and then everything goes a lot differently than expected. A book about self-reconfiguration, the novel becomes a constellation of collapse: the merely aesthetic fails the pure, elliptical Strickland as he falls in love with Anne (a character of startling human intricacy), whose infidelity is her own ethical malfunction. Owen's shoddily made boat starts coming apart in the terrible sea, but by then it hardly matters to him: Having been gradually shaken by revelation of the paradoxical "singularity" of the All, he fakes his positions and wanders amidst religious sublimity and mad self-cancellation. Stone never has written better. Plot seems the only element occasionally reached for here, sometimes too slow, too quickened- -but Stone's matchless dialogue and Melvillean sea-writing (and Melvillean themes: con-games, the death of myth) more than compensate. Ashen yet rich, prophetically unswerving but clement: a novel of true American literary significance. Read full book review >
Released: March 28, 1986

A no less bitterly puckered but a more firmly focused book than A Flag for Sunrise, the jaundiced eye here is upon Hollywood and movie-making, an atmosphere utterly (as is always the case with Stone, who is the great drug-plague chronicler of our literature) brain-blown and demoralized by cocaine. Gordon Walker is a toot-ruined screenwriter whose wife has left him, who has spent some numb weeks on stage as Lear (in Seattle); and who, at the end of his rope, gets the spectacularly bad idea of visiting the set of a movie he'd done the script for (a version of Kate Chopin's novel, The Awakening), now being filmed in Mexico. It's an especially tragic idea because he's actually going to see an old love, the film's star, Lee Verger—and Lee's in no shape to handle him. She's in no shape to handle herself; her psychiatrist-husband and her children having left after a visit, Lee has decided to try to do the film while not taking her anti-psychotic medication, pills she must take if she is to keep at bay her palpable, visible-to-her demons, the "Long Friends" ("Never in her life had she seen the Long Friends so unafraid of sound or light, almost ready to join her in the greater world and make the two worlds one. Seeing them gathered around, shyly peering from between their lace-like wings, murmuring encouragement. . ."). Walker's arrival can only make her worse, make her descent steeper; and in his own cocaine-hell, he follows. Stone is at his most baroquely hyperbolic in the Walker/Lee Verger scenes. They speak a kind of oblique Scripture of the thoroughly damned, and build up together to a climactic primal scene of degradation and self-destruction, the kind of thing Stone seems usually to end his books with (not really successfully). There are bruises to some of the prose, a kind of mock-Chandler sentimentality, too: "She was always looking for the inside story. . . Maybe there was more to it, he thought. Maybe she cares." And yet Stone's genius is truly concentrated, in certain sections here, in what he does better than any other contemporary American: the ugly conversation. It's carried on almost exclusively by the various parts of the film-making crew, especially the talk of the callow, callous, amoralist director (who, though he absolutely knows better, insists on treating Lee Verger as an "halucineÉ," out to milk her madness of whatever will benefit the performance he seeks) and his retinue. They're a cast of gargoyles, the film crew, whom no other writer could probably get to talk more frighteningly, with more implicit horror. As one of them says passingly to another: "There are people at this table who can vulgarize pure light." It's one of the creepiest, most unredeemed of Hollywood novels. The central duo—Walker and Lee Verger—are a touch overblown—Lucia-like operatics, semi-innocents in the maelstrom—but the book always knows who its own "Long Friends" are: the ghouls on the set. Read full book review >
A FLAG FOR SUNRISE by Robert Stone
Released: Nov. 9, 1981

Four Americans converge on a Central-American banana dictatorship called Tecan—and each of them is clearly ready for some internal shake-up. Frank Holliwell, an anthropologist suffering from anomie, has been invited down by the Tecan national university to give a lecture—and he's also been asked to do some snooping around by CIA buddies he'd known from Vietnam days. Pablo Tabor, a young paranoid speed-freak Coast-Guard deserter, has signed on aboard a gun-running boat set to deliver arms to Tecan rebels. Sister Justin Feeney, a young Devotionist nun, is about to be pulled from her Tecan coast dispensary by her order (she's a supporter of the rebels). And Father Egan, Justin's co-missionary, is a priest who's steadily more pickled with brandy and visions of the Demiurge and the Pleroma. These, four, in fact—the intellectual wimp adrift in history, the bad-news outcast, the tragically strong woman, the released-of-it-all gnostic—are pretty much the usual cast of a Stone novel (A Hall of Mirrors, Dog Soldiers): four compass points that themselves stagger under generally vicious circumstances. Stone's hallmark—scenes of menace—is on lavish display here too: corpses in freezers; a woman threatened with a gun at her head while frozen burgers are arranged around her supine body; at least three shipboard murders. And the violence seems very right, made inevitable by the tone of dark historical despair underlying everything. But whereas A Hall of Mirrors and, even more, Dog Soldiers spiked toward catharsis (novels as plotted as Stone's surely seem to demand one), here the fever-break is absent—with oddly ill-timed, often premature climaxes which make us feel like we're guttering instead of steadily climbing. True, there's no shortage of dramatic movements here: Holliwell and Sister Justin have a brief and mutually-embarrassing amour; there are truly awful murders, torture, a failed revolt, an exhaustion of motive. But the working-out of the story finally seems not much more cutting (only more hard-boiled) than the vector in a book like The Bridge at San Luis Rey (fate—and cynicism—bringing people together only to destroy them); and whole sections are fumbly, purple at times, contrived enough even to resort to an eavesdropping scene. And yet, all that said, this is also the work of a truly powerful, unduplicated voice. No American writer does crazy dangerous people better—perhaps because no American novelist finds the strain of pusillanimity in contemporary Americans quite as scary as Stone does: "Pablo took himself out on deck again, the anticipated clean clothes he carried were just a useless embarrassment now. He was nearly enraged. It was a hell of a thing not to get a shower when you wanted one. It was a bring-down. It made you negative." And, more agonized than even a Naipaul over history's black holes, Stone lights every page with the superiority of his prose: the great descending speed of his paragraphs, hipness turning ecclesiastical, the extraordinary cynical ventriloquisms of much of the dialogue. Writing on this sure a ad powerful level is not to be ignored—even when its container, as here, seems poorly weighted and subject to leaks. Read full book review >
DOG SOLDIERS by Robert Stone
Released: Nov. 4, 1974

As charged and impacted as the award-winning A Hall of Mirrors (1967), Dog Soldiers is the best dope novel in recent memory, filled with its spirituality from addicts of every chemical persuasion. As the novel grows it also twists, turns and reverses. John Converse, a fear-ridden writer in search of a book in Vietnam, has been so corrupted by the satanic horror of death in the war that he sells himself out and tries to ship three kilos of heroin to his wife in Frisco by way of a psychopathic sailor (who conducts himself as a neo-Nietzschean samurai). Hicks, the sailor, and Converse's wife Marge are attacked by some Stateside burn artists — then begin a long flight from a corrupt federal official and his insane henchmen. Converse arrives in Frisco and is taken captive and tortured over a kitchen stove by the narks. As their prisoner, he joins in the chase after Marge, Hicks and the scag, which leads to a Zen Disneyland monastery on a Mexican mountaintop. The plot, a sustained melodrama, deserves every reticence from reviewers. The novel bears its own weight of infinite evil in the endlessly bizarre parade of spiritual zombies and double-dealers, while the language is stripped and strong. A slippery climax, but unerring dialogue and characterization. Read full book review >
HALL OF MIRRORS by Robert Stone
Released: Jan. 30, 1966

A scabrous underside of the American Way of Life is examined here...and left undiagnosed. The book is chock-a-block with the author's talent, and some powerful passages indicate critical acceptance (or at least attention) but no foreseeable readership. All the characters with any sensitivity are alcoholic, drugaddicted or psychiatric losers. All the officials or employers exhibit moronic brutality or worse, a paranoid urge toward dictatorship. Reinhardt is the central figure, a boozed out ex-musician turned wandering disc jockey. He picks up Geraldine, a knife-scarred teenage widow from the West Virginia hill country. Then, there's Rainey, a psychological wreck with all the sins of the South on his soul, recovering from a nervous breakdown with a nerve-shattering job as a welfare investigator. These three and numerous grotesques all come together and give each other the willies in a tumble down apartment building in New Orleans during the numb aftermath of a recent Mardi Gras. Rainey suspects evil forces and it turns out that Reinhardt works for them. He cynically acts as master of ceremonies at a monstrous rally which the owner of his station sponsors as an exercise in inciting patriotic frenzy. Rainey is destroyed trying to stop it and Geraldine is driven to suicide by it. Reinhardt understands it all and prepares to drift again. Geraldine's entrapment in urban society is the only touching reality. There are wild stretches of genuine dark humor the best of which include a double-dyed fake minister and some Negroes attempting to beat the city relief rolls. It's not the material best or even steady sellers are made of, but the author is worth watching. Read full book review >