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

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Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Does Robert Stone truly write about the "counterculture"?

You can't stop, or I can't stop, reading Robert Stone's Dog Soldiers in the same way that you can't not turn to look at an accident scene. That's a tribute to the power of Stone's writing - just excellent clear direct sentences, sharp observations, odd and oblique dialogue - even though the world he depicts is dark and insane and pretty much nothing at all like the world that most of us - I think - live in and maybe not a real world at all, even among the most desperate of junkies and dealers isn't there at least a shred of affection and humanity? His characters are across the board addicted (Rs and alcohol), selfish, greedy - and never stupid. That's the quirk: they're low-lifes but all highly intelligent and well-educated. They - or Stone - even show off: someone quotes a passage of literature, asks another "do you know who wrote that?" and the response is "yes" - which of course puts him on a plane above me as I had no idea (well, maybe I had an idea). Definitely not a writer for everyone, as this novel is unrelentingly dark, but inasmuch as one pleasure of fiction is to bring us (safely) into places that we have never seen or known, either in our own time or others - or even in other worlds - Stone certainly does that: most readers of serious literary fiction, his own conceit aside, aren't all that familiar with heroin dealers and could hardly imagine stepping into that world as amateurs, as his hapless protagonists do, with expected consequences. What I wonder is whether this is a real (realistic) world-view or concocted solely, or primarily, from Stone's rich imagination. I know from the few interviews and appreciations I've read that Stone considered himself an active participant in the counterculture, whatever that may mean (it wasn't exactly a political movement in any unified sense) but this dark side was never so far as I knew a part of the counterculture of the 60s and 70s - unless it was the hidden fires of hell that fueled the engine of peace and love?

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