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

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Thursday, January 29, 2015

Where is Robert Stone in Dog Soldiers?

Wondering where author Robert Stone exists among the characters and events of Dog Soldiers - in that the material feels, intentionally, like a world that few writers would know anything about, hustlers and drug runners, addicts and thugs, purveyors of porn, corrupt cops, washed out dreams and hopeless addicts - not the kind of background from which writers usually emerge. Well, there are at least 2 writers in the novel: the guy who sets the drug deal in motion, Converse, who in the first two or three chapters reminded me of a world-weary Graham Greene hero (I was soon disabused of that) - he's a would-be writer with one moderately successful play (about a Marine who it seems turns against the service?), not written anything worthwhile since, goes to Vietnam for some material and inspiration, ends up running heroin - and writing cheap tabloid crap for his successful, left-wing father-in-law. This guy is not Robert Stone - Stone is in no way a washed-up, disillusioned writer caught up in schemes and scams. The second writer is a would-be Hollywood screenwriter, presumably very prosperous (not from earnings but from marriage) who hooks up with the Rx dealers to try some H just to have the authentic experience before he writes about it. Guess what: he dies. Not Stone there, either - not only because Stone lives to tell the tale but because he would not pay for cheap access to experience. Though it's hard for me to believe that Stone knows this world of dealers as part of his direct experience, I think he must be a master of the indirect experience - a guy who listens and learns, takes everything in, and has his own way of giving the "status details" vibrancy and life so that his writing never feels like a report from a foreign land but rather like something intimately known to the writer. I would say Stone is most like the guru/senei/Zen master who's retreated to the top of a mountain somewhere in the Southwest - when two of the dealers - Ray and Marge - come to see him in hopes that he'll offload their stash, he instead tries to pull Marge from her addiction. He's one of the few, maybe the only, morally sound adult characters in the novel. Stone, as noted yesterday, has self-described as an active participant in the counterculture; I think he must have seen, through a glass darkly, the underside that this novel conveys but has removed himself from that world to observe and recollect, as from a great height and from a higher order of wisdom and perception.

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