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A daily record of what I'm thinking about what I'm reading

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Saturday, January 31, 2015

Authenticity and the novel: The case for Robert Stone

Can't say by any means that the ending of Dog Soldiers (Robert Stone) is uplifting but Stone holds a few surprises in store right down to the last page or two, and we do see Converse, the guy whose greed and stupidity put this whole drug-smuggling deal in motion, make one wise and ethically sound decision (won't give it away). The 30-page account of Hicks's trek across the forest and salt flats, badly wounded by a shot from an imploding pellet, hoping to reach the two with whom he's collaborated and whom he betrayed in the deal on gone haywire, in hopes that they will rendezvous at agreed point and drive him to safety, is Stone's tour de force, an internal monologue that's near-Joycean in power and in range. I've noted before but worth noting again that Stone is, or was, almost unique among writers of literary fiction in that he seems to have down perfectly the world, jargon, world-view, motives, interior life of some very low, even despicable characters - the type whom most writers rarely encounter or, if they (we) do, are so alien that we cannot enter their consciousness except through heist or satire. Stone seems to know this world intimately - whether from his own experiences or from his fertile imagination, I can't say and it doesn't really matter. The writing feels authentic and genuine - for the most part (he does have a penchant for highly literate thugs, which I think is a writerly exaggeration or conceit) - and if a thug were to read Dog Soldiers and laugh and say Stone got it all wrong, so be it. Do you have to be Iceberg Slim or Lee Abbott to tell of the life of the underworld? I think a smart writer with an eye, an ear, an imagination, and a reportorial interest in other people and cultures can give us access to a world and consciousness not entirely his own - which does not mean trying out a heroin just to use the experience in a novel or screenplay, as Stone shows through the fate of a minor, idiotic character (not a thug) in this novel. Not a novel or novelist for all tastes, but a thrilling and imaginative story-teller who explored avenues down which few have ventured.

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