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).
It’s primarily a tale of people encountered and places seen, beginning in 1958 when Stone was a naval officer aboard a cargo ship performing geophysical research in latitudes approaching Antarctica. Despite side trips to Australia and South Africa, he ruefully concedes, “I felt very worldly, but in fact my international sophistication was severely limited.” The persona thus established became a paradoxical survival skill, as Stone moved on to the first of two tours in New York City’s journalistic world, marriage and fatherhood during lean years spent in New Orleans, back to New York, then to California (on a Stegner Writing Fellowship)—and into several drug-fueled years lived under the inspiration of Kerouac and the Beats and the saturnine tutelage of novelist-“prankster” Ken Kesey. Stone was in fact a passenger on the bus “Further” during its infamous 1964 cross-country joyride. Later, there were voyages to Paris and London, gigs with popular magazines (notably Esquire), the successful publication of his first novel, A Hall of Mirrors, and its unsuccessful filming spearheaded by Paul Newman, and a 1968 trip to Vietnam as a correspondent for the short-lived British publication INK. The author relates several interesting stories, including one about the Mexican misadventure that gives this book its arresting title. Stone’s descriptive and rhetorical intensity and versatility are strongly imprinted on every page, but the book is not self-serving: As hard as he is on America’s puritanical legalism and reckless international adventuring, Stone is even more bluntly candid about the residue of his own ingenuous friendships and wasted youth (“. . . in the end we allowed drugs to be turned into a weapon against everything we believed in”).
An excellent piece of work, and an invaluable gloss on a body of fiction that looks more prescient, and important, as the decades pass.