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The first and definitive biography of one of the great American novelists of the postwar era, the author of Dog Soldiers and A Flag for Sunrise, and a penetrating critic of American power, innocence, and corruption Robert Stone (1937-2015), probably the only postwar American writer to draw favorable comparisons to Ernest Hemingway, Graham Greene, and Joseph Conrad, lived a The first and definitive biography of one of the great American novelists of the postwar era, the author of Dog Soldiers and A Flag for Sunrise, and a penetrating critic of American power, innocence, and corruption Robert Stone (1937-2015), probably the only postwar American writer to draw favorable comparisons to Ernest Hemingway, Graham Greene, and Joseph Conrad, lived a life rich in adventure, achievement, and inner turmoil. He grew up rough on the streets of New York, the son of a mentally troubled single mother. After his Navy service in the fifties, which brought him to such locales as pre-Castro Havana, the Suez Crisis, and Antarctica, he studied writing at Stanford, where he met Ken Kesey and became a core member of the gang of Merry Pranksters. The publication of his superb New Orleans novel, Hall of Mirrors (1967), initiated a succession of dark-humored novels that investigated the American experience in Vietnam (Dog Soldiers, 1974, which won the National Book Award), Central America (A Flag for Sunrise, 1981), and Jerusalem on the eve of the millennium (Damascus Gate, 1998). An acclaimed novelist himself, Madison Smartt Bell was a close friend and longtime admirer of Robert Stone. His authorized and deeply researched biography is both intimate and objective, a rich and unsparing portrait of a complicated, charismatic, and haunted man and a sympathetic reading of his work that will help to secure Stone's place in the pantheon of major American writers.


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The first and definitive biography of one of the great American novelists of the postwar era, the author of Dog Soldiers and A Flag for Sunrise, and a penetrating critic of American power, innocence, and corruption Robert Stone (1937-2015), probably the only postwar American writer to draw favorable comparisons to Ernest Hemingway, Graham Greene, and Joseph Conrad, lived a The first and definitive biography of one of the great American novelists of the postwar era, the author of Dog Soldiers and A Flag for Sunrise, and a penetrating critic of American power, innocence, and corruption Robert Stone (1937-2015), probably the only postwar American writer to draw favorable comparisons to Ernest Hemingway, Graham Greene, and Joseph Conrad, lived a life rich in adventure, achievement, and inner turmoil. He grew up rough on the streets of New York, the son of a mentally troubled single mother. After his Navy service in the fifties, which brought him to such locales as pre-Castro Havana, the Suez Crisis, and Antarctica, he studied writing at Stanford, where he met Ken Kesey and became a core member of the gang of Merry Pranksters. The publication of his superb New Orleans novel, Hall of Mirrors (1967), initiated a succession of dark-humored novels that investigated the American experience in Vietnam (Dog Soldiers, 1974, which won the National Book Award), Central America (A Flag for Sunrise, 1981), and Jerusalem on the eve of the millennium (Damascus Gate, 1998). An acclaimed novelist himself, Madison Smartt Bell was a close friend and longtime admirer of Robert Stone. His authorized and deeply researched biography is both intimate and objective, a rich and unsparing portrait of a complicated, charismatic, and haunted man and a sympathetic reading of his work that will help to secure Stone's place in the pantheon of major American writers.

30 review for Child of Light: A Biography of Robert Stone

  1. 4 out of 5

    Robin

    This is a magnificent, comprehensive, meticulously researched biography of the American writer Robert Stone. Before reading it, I knew next to nothing about this man - now I know everything or damn near close to it. I'm abashed to say I've not read any of Robert Stone's novels. But after listening to a podcast interview of Madison Smartt Bell talking about his newly released and acclaimed biography, I became quite curious to learn about Stone's life. Now that I know everything about this man, I'm This is a magnificent, comprehensive, meticulously researched biography of the American writer Robert Stone. Before reading it, I knew next to nothing about this man - now I know everything or damn near close to it. I'm abashed to say I've not read any of Robert Stone's novels. But after listening to a podcast interview of Madison Smartt Bell talking about his newly released and acclaimed biography, I became quite curious to learn about Stone's life. Now that I know everything about this man, I'm ready to embark on his works of fiction. Robert Stone was a product of the 60s - rolling with Ken Kesey and his crowd, he was no stranger to drugs, and lots of alcohol. He had a "free love" agreement with his wife for the duration of their many-decades-long marriage. Before all that, though, we learn about his atypical childhood, his complicated reaction to a Catholic upbringing, and his time in the navy. We learn about his writing process, the things that inspired him, the books he wrote, all the jobs he had, places he lived, the publishing deals, the people who influenced his career, the meals he ate, the women he bedded, the critical reception of his work, the trips he took. We learn about all the notable literati he rubbed shoulders with (ah! Ray Carver! there you are...). We learn about his lifelong alcoholism and drug dependence. We learn that he hated being compared to Graham Greene. Part of the reason that this biography (over 600 pages long) is so comprehensive is because the author, who was friends with Robert Stone, was also close with his wife Janice. Janice, who kept a diary, was remarkably open in sharing her life with Bob, from the mundane details to the very personal. I have to admire her openness and honesty, even if many times I felt as though she was far too... subservient? enabling? of her rather self centred, difficult, addicted, genius of a husband. What made this biography about ten notches up from average is that it was written by someone who a) knew the subject, professionally and personally and b) understands literature at a high level and thus provides extremely insightful literary commentary on each of Stone's novels. Anyone who has read Stone will no doubt pour over the sections discussing each book. Also, despite its 600 pages, Child of Light reads like a novel. It's seamlessly engaging. I blasted through it, frankly, because it hit the sweet spots for me: book stuff/people, and a never-boring personal life. The narrative comes particularly alive during the parts in which the author travels to Haiti with Robert Stone. This part comes at quite a dramatic crux of Stone's marriage, and Bell does a beautiful job of capturing these times in a fair way, withholding judgment as much as possible, and maintaining a consistent admiration for Robert Stone the writer and Robert Stone the struggling human being. Mr. Stone is fortunate to have someone this sensitive and masterful pen his biography. What a tribute to a complicated life - and a fascinating literary legacy. I'm off to read Dog Soldiers now....

  2. 4 out of 5

    James Murphy

    Most rightfully consider Robert Stone to be one of the great American novelists of the late 20th century. Such novels as Dog Soldiers, A Flag for Sunrise, and Damascus Gate are demonstrations of that greatness. And perhaps Outerbridge Reach, my favorite. Certainly he was one of the most important novelists writing about the festering crease where morality and politics and personal faith converge. Madison Smartt Bell in this masterful biography of Stone tells us several times that he wrote novels Most rightfully consider Robert Stone to be one of the great American novelists of the late 20th century. Such novels as Dog Soldiers, A Flag for Sunrise, and Damascus Gate are demonstrations of that greatness. And perhaps Outerbridge Reach, my favorite. Certainly he was one of the most important novelists writing about the festering crease where morality and politics and personal faith converge. Madison Smartt Bell in this masterful biography of Stone tells us several times that he wrote novels of convergence, of characters who come from far-flung places and mindsets to converge in moral turmoil, searches for salvation, and even violence. And always he wrote principled judgments of American actions, whether they concerned civil rights, Palestine, Vietnam, or Central America. Bell interestingly says that in one way or another Stone was always writing about Vietnam, but his unease for our age stemmed from religion, too. Bell and Stone were close friends. The biography has a personal touch Bell allows into his portrait and is valuable for that. Biography approaches memoir when he writes about the 2 trips they took into the dark heart of Haiti where Stone researched his novel Bay of Souls. Biographies by authors close to their subject are often interesting in the ways they can shape the story. I enjoy seeing what directions will be taken and what truths will be told. In this case Bell has enormous admiration for Janice Stone, the wife and muse for 55 years. Her strength and beauty of spirit shine throughout. Bell leans heavily on her version of events and motivations, making this a little like a biography of a marriage. As Bell acknowledges late in the book, Stone was fortunate to have her partnership. This 1st biography of Stone won't be the last. But it'll remain the one we look to for years when we want news of him. I think it's the biography he deserves.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Michelle Kidwell

    Child of Light A Biography of Robert Stone by Madison Smartt Bell Doubleday Books Doubleday Biographies & Memoirs , Nonfiction (Adult) Pub Date 17 Mar 2020 I am reviewing A Child of Light: A Biography of Robert Stone through Doubleday Books and Netgalley: Robert Stone was born in Brooklyn, On President Street, the border of Park Slope and South Brooklyn. He was born on August.21.1937. His Mother had been a School teacher in the New York Public School System and his Father has worked for the Old New Have Child of Light A Biography of Robert Stone by Madison Smartt Bell Doubleday Books Doubleday Biographies & Memoirs , Nonfiction (Adult) Pub Date 17 Mar 2020 I am reviewing A Child of Light: A Biography of Robert Stone through Doubleday Books and Netgalley: Robert Stone was born in Brooklyn, On President Street, the border of Park Slope and South Brooklyn. He was born on August.21.1937. His Mother had been a School teacher in the New York Public School System and his Father has worked for the Old New Haven Railroad. Robert Stone’s Mother’s family had been in the Brooklyn Waterfront working on Tugboats for generations. His parents separated when he was still quite young. He then moved with his Mother to Upper Manhattan. His Mother had Schizophrenia, and when he was five his Mother had been hospital. Stone went to St. Anne’s at Lexington and Seventy Seventh street, that would later become Archbishop Malloy school. St Anne’s had been a cross between a boarding school and an Orphanage and was run by the Marist brothers. He had stayed at St Anne’s until he was nine. Robert Stone’s Mother Gladys was born on October.16.1894. She has come from a poor family and struggled with money throughout the rest of her life. Despite this she had travelled Widely for a woman of her class and generation. Robert Stone had been expelled from St Anne’s in May of his Senior Year and found himself at loose ends. He worked for a short time as a clerk in a department store and feared gangs were out to get him. He spent his spare time hangout g around the Beatnick’s but at seventeen he opted for stability by getting his Mother’s permission to enlist in a three year stint in the U.S Navy. While on ship Stone read everything from Comic books to Westerns, to the Bible, and Moby Dick. He read Ulysses by Joyce and a lot of Conrad, as well as any poetry he could lay his hands on. Stone also wrote “The Two Smartest Kids in the Block.” And sent it to Esquire where it was rejected. He took courses to get his G.E.D and passed a test to become a Navy Journalist, passing the test also came with a promotion to Petty Officer third class. While aboard the Muliphen Stone was the editor for the Ships news letter. Robert Stone left the Navy on July.14.1854, Bastille Day. When he was back in Brooklyn Stone and his Mother were reunited. Due to the fact that Robert Stone didn’t feel as if he were in a position to sign a lease, Stone stayed in furnished rooms or cheap hotels. The room he took at the Hotel St.George in Brooklyn was only $15 a week. Only a few days after he was discharged from the Navy he found a job writing for a magazine that was circulated among the Navy’s enlisted men. The magazine relied on a fine blend of cheesecake and antique seafaring stories. The Fall of 1958 brought Stone, a new job The New York Daily News, the Largest circulated tabloid newspaper at few time. He also took up his regent scholarship and started classes at New York University. He wanted to write something beyond journalism. Robert Stone who was born in 1937 and died in 2015 was likely the only post war writer to be favorably compared toErnest Hemmingway, Joseph Conrad and Graham Greene. He lived a life of adventure, achievement and inner turmoil. He grew up on the tough streets of New York City. He was the son of a mentally ill single Mother. His navy service in the 1950’s brought him to exotic places such as Suez Crisis, and Antarctica. He studied writing at Stanford, (The Stones had moved from New York to California in 1962) where he would meet Ken Kesey and become a core member of the gang Merry Pranksters. In 1967 the publication of his superb New Orleans novels Hall of Mirrors. The release of this book initiated a series of dark humored novels that touched on the human experience in Vietnam. In 1974 Dog Soldiers was published which would cone to win The National Book Award. Central America. A flag for Sunrise 1981, Jerusalem. And on the eve of the Millennium in 1988 it was Damascus Road. If you are looking for an in-depth biography of Robert Stone by acclaimed novelist, long time friend and admirer of Robert Stone Maddison Smartt Bell. Bell Meticulously researched Child of Light leaving for an in-depth biography that is both intimate and objective. Child of is a rich and unsparing portrait of a complicated, charismatic, and haunted man and a sympathetic reading of his work that will help to secure Stone’s place in the pantheon of major American writers. I found Child of Light to be meticulously researched , well written, and informative. If you are looking to understand Robert Stone on a deeper level, this is a biography I’d have to recommend. I give Child of Light five out of five stars! Happy Reading!

  4. 5 out of 5

    Csimplot Simplot

    Excellent book!!!

  5. 5 out of 5

    Frederic

    A perceptive and beautifully written biography of a great American writer...devotees of his novels,stories,and essays will love this book and those who are not familiar with the work will find much here to stimulate their interest...for more than fifty years i have read,re-read ,and contemplated his oeuvre to my everlasting benefit...he was truly an athlete of perception,and Madison Smartt Bell has given us a biography worthy of the man...

  6. 4 out of 5

    James Jordan

    Life imitating Art imitating Life  In the Poetics, circa 335 BCE, Aristotle famously promulgated his rules of art, each of which rests upon this foundation: art mimics life.  2,224 years later, in 1889, Oscar Wilde published “The Decay of Lying,” the principal essay (a Socratic dialog actually, as irony would have it) in his collection Intentions. In “Decay,” one of the characters, a boy named Vivian, launches a poignant assault on realistic fiction in general and on the novels of Henry James in Life imitating Art imitating Life  In the Poetics, circa 335 BCE, Aristotle famously promulgated his rules of art, each of which rests upon this foundation: art mimics life.  2,224 years later, in 1889, Oscar Wilde published “The Decay of Lying,” the principal essay (a Socratic dialog actually, as irony would have it) in his collection Intentions. In “Decay,” one of the characters, a boy named Vivian, launches a poignant assault on realistic fiction in general and on the novels of Henry James in particular.  There is, Vivian says, an abundance of boredom in fiction that imitates life and little art, if any, in imitation. The polar positions in this chicken-or-egg debate can be reduced to absurdity, banality, or irrelevance, but Aristotle and Wilde advanced them earnestly as fundamental and critically important. Aristotle used his rule adeptly to illustrate the necessity of imitating human behavior in tragedy and comedy to promote verisimilitude. Oscar Wilde professed that art enriches the human spirit when it springs from imagination but not when it rests on imitation. Robert Stone (1937-2015) was said by leading literary critics of our time to be one of our most important novelists. Child of Light is Madison Smartt Bell’s recently published, thought provoking, beautifully told authorized biography of Stone. It is a tapestry of an artist’s life from which his art cannot be unwoven without unraveling the whole. Child delves so deeply, meaningfully, and artfully into Stone’s work and his life that it casts light on the art of writing literary fiction and an understanding of where to look for the act of artistic creation along the Aristotle-Wilde aesthetic divide. In Child, we learn that among his many accomplishments, Bob Stone published eight novels and made promising progress on another, one that he ultimately abandoned: Arctutus. All but one of his novels were critically acclaimed: He won a National Book Award, a Pulitzer Prize for fiction, and a Pen-Faulkner award.  He taught creative writing to graduate and undergraduate students at U Mass Amherst, Johns Hopkins (where he had tenure), Yale, and other distinguished universities. Bob Stone’s teaching career was especially impressive considering his limited formal education.  By the time he was in high school “Bob had already acquired a good deal of knowledge about Western art history on his own, while lurking about New York museums as a smaller child. . ..” In his senior year at St. Ann’s (Catholic) high school, he had the highest score on the New York Regent’s exam, making him eligible for a four-year scholarship to NYU.  He authored a story that was published, and he won writing awards. The New Yorker rejected a submission but asked to see more of his work. Notwithstanding these accomplishments, he was expelled from St. Ann’s for espousing “atheistic secular humanism.” “‘I felt like Martin Luther,’ he said, ‘. . . like a superhero.’” But without a high school diploma and hence decent job prospects, at 17 he joined the navy, where he ultimately earned a GED.  The derailment of Bob Stone’s formal education did not deter his pursuit of a self-education. In an article titled “Antarctica, 1958” published in the June 12, 2006 issue of The New Yorker, writing about one of his experiences in the navy when he was twenty, Bob Stone said: “When I went below to crash . . . I lay down to read with my pocket flashlight. I had “Ulysses” checked out of the Norfolk, Virginia, public library, and plenty of time to be patient with it. When we started sliding to port, I’d stay with Leopold Bloom for as long as I could tough it out . . .”  In Child, we also learn of Bob Stone’s love and use of canonical poetry in his fiction, of his acting in and knowledge of William Shakespeare’s plays. Like Michael Faraday, like Abraham Lincoln, Robert Stone was an autodidact of the highest order. Bob Stone was also an actor, a memoirist, a screenwriter.  He was a reporter, the author of short fiction published in magazines such as The New Yorker.  He received commissions from leading periodicals to write nonfiction articles and essays, including his memories of the 1960s and his travels to exotic locales.  In short, as an author and a teacher, his was an amazing life of significant accomplishments and literary contributions. But he also suffered from, putting it mildly, a challenging childhood, depression, alcoholism, drug addiction, and chronic pain inflicted by gout and other lifelong ailments. Child achieves its strengths by:                 Quoting Bob and Janice Stone, drawing quotes from a wealth of other authorities, and then interweaving these quotations with narrations, reflections, and commentary so that quotes and accompanying passages flow together as if originating from the same source; Telling the story of Bob Stone’s life and the writing of his novels in the distinct voices initially heard within the quotations; Structuring Child with sections that correlate with periods of Bob Stone’s life during which each of his novels was written; and Analyzing each novel by comparing episodes in Bob Stone’s life and one or more of his pertinent personality traits to the experiences and personality traits of his principal characters, presenting the reader with a unity of the artist and his art. Referencing an entry in one of Janice Stone’s journals about her first visit to Bob’s living quarters, M. Bell writes: “Bob’s room ‘seemed to be about knee-deep with discarded newspapers and socks. And I thought, this guy could really use some organizing.  And then I thought—me, I can do that.’ As it turned out, she would be organizing Bob Stone for the next five decades.” This is but one of many instances in Child where a quotation and the adjoining narration flow unimpededly from one to the other. This is done with such finesse that, as if by legerdemain, the biographer vanishes from the text, leaving the reader on her own with Bob or Janice Stone, with their thoughts and feelings, or with their friends, companions, or colleagues. Quoting from an essay written by Stone for a book on Catholicism, Child begins: I was born in Brooklyn on President Street . . .” The omission of an opening quotation mark is a clever use of punctuation license. Farther down the first page, quoting from another source, the story continues with this intimate quote: “My mother didn’t have an honest bone in her body, God Bless her. . .. But she did care about me.” In addition to the usual materials from which biographies are often constructed, such as interviews and book reviews, M. Bell had access to the Holy Grail—a metaphor he used in a short essay published in the May 21, 2020 edition of Air Mail titled “Child’s Play”—interviews with Bob Stone and accompanying commentary with “a psychoanalytic tack” taken and annotated in the late ’70s by Anne Greif for her dissertation in psychology.   Of her interviews with Bob, Greif wrote: “At times, his recollection was indeed so vivid that he seemed to be reliving in part the earlier time, and anger, anxiety, affection, love, and fright could be felt in the room.” And of Greif’s interviews of Bob and her commentary, M. Bell wrote: “This revelation had a double layer. Not only did I get the childhood in Stone’s own telling, but I also got to watch him tell it as a man in his prime—that version of my lost friend, and most admired writer, I had never before seen with my own eyes.” How did M. Bell infuse rich veins of first-person quotations throughout Child to foster, intermittently, the feel of an autobiography, or to otherwise forge the close bond between a reader and a book’s principal character usually reserved for first-person narrations? Between the title of the Air Mail essay and the byline, this sentence appears: “Robert Stone’s biographer pieced together the novelist’s life by delving into his early years.”  “Pieced together” does injustice to the literary accomplishment of Child of Light. In the acknowledgments in Child, M. Bell says of his editor Gerry Howard: the latter would cut, and the author would suture.  “Suture” is better than “piece together” but still fails to capture the experience of fluency engendered when reading a biography that slips effortlessly into and out of the first person, transitions between events and literary analyses so as to unite Robert Stone’s life and his art. While the quotations intertwined with narration in Child vividly illuminate the nexus of Robert Stone’s life and his fiction, it achieves more.  The quotations came from a variety of sources as they would in most well-written-and-researched biographies.  As one would expect, tonal variations can be heard in quotations from different sources. But hearing the various tones emanating from the quotes echo in the narration connecting the quotes or in closely following passages is unexpected as this requires skill beyond the ability of most writers.  For instance, in the opening passages and later the reader hears matter-of-fact reportage: “I was born in Brooklyn.”  The modulation of voice becomes most apparent late in the book with the appearance of M. Bell in person or as a character as it were. We hear in these passages his unique chronicling-Haiti-and-Hattian-lore voice, an English-speaking voice that occasionally speaks words and phrases in Haitian French and Kreyol. The voice of this narrator will be recognized by readers of M. Bell’s trilogy of novels set in Haiti that commence with All Souls Rising.  These novels tell of the revolts that emancipated Haiti’s slaves. It’s also a voice that is heard when reading M. Bell’s memoir Soul in a Bottle and his biography of Tousssaint Louverture. The effect of writing in so many voices is to reinforce the reader’s awareness of the depth and breadth of the source material, which in turn engenders a sense of verisimilitude.  The reliability of a story is enhanced when it is told consistently by many witnesses.     Child is structured with a preface, eight chronologically ascending Parts, each bearing the title of the novel Bob Stone wrote during the era covered by that Part, and a coda. Each Part is divided into chapters. Early chapters in each Part begin with biographical narrative. Later chapters cover the time when Bob Stone was writing the novel for which the Part is titled.  In the concluding chapters of each of Part, M. Bell analyzes principal characters and events in the novel being considered and compares aspects of the characters’ personalities to similar character traits of Bob Stone and to events in Bob Stone’s life. In the preface, M. Bell writes: “He was a conflicted, sometimes tormented personality in both life and art. . . . Although Stone was never an autobiographical novelist . . .some variations of his own qualities . . .” are usually “projected onto at least one major character . . . or sometimes . . .  is split between two protagonists.”  Is M. Bell saying that these are instances of art mimicking life?  On a superficial level one might be inclined to say yes.  But Child takes its readers too deeply into the life and art of Robert Stone for the answer to be obvious. Bob Stone’s story “Dominion” was published in the last issue of The New Yorker of the 1990s.  It followed by one year the publication of his sixth novel Damascus Gate.  The principal character is Michael Ahearn, whom Stone borrowed from Arctutus. Ahearn appears again as the main character in Bay of Souls, Stone’s penultimate novel published in 2003.  In “Dominion,” Ahearn is a lapsed Catholic who may be moving toward rediscovering his faith: religion is on his mind. When returning from a hunting trip, he learns that his son, Paul, had been overcome by the cold while outside searching for his dog. Paul is hospitalized and near death from freezing.  When Ahearn learns that his son will survive, he turns his back on the hospital chapel. Bay of Souls begins with a reprisal of “Dominion:” Ahearn on a hunting trip like the one in “Dominion.” Paul almost freezes to death. When Bay of Souls continues beyond the events in “Dominion,” Ahearn has an extra-marital affair similar to Robert Stone’s own long-lasting extra-marital affair.  Ahearn travels with his mistress to an exotic Caribbean island as Stone did with his mistress.  Ahearn’s wife discovers the affair when she finds two boarding pass stubs, which is exactly how Janice Stone discovered her husband’s affair. (Stone’s marital indiscretions had a happier ending than Ahern’s did.  Ahern’s wife divorced him, taking Paul with her. Janice Stone gave Bob an ultimatum: “Her or me.”  Pondering his decision, Bob asked Janice if she would still be his secretary if he chose her rival.  But he quickly came to his senses, saving his marriage.) Robert Stone was expelled from St. Ann’s because he’d advocated atheistic humanism.  But in maturity he increasingly professed faith and began writing about the vicissitudes of religious belief. Thus, it is reasonable to ask: Did Stone imbue Ahearn with spiritual anguish akin to his own to learn how his character would come to terms with his lapsed faith not. If Bob Stone wrote about Ahearn to benefit therapeutically, then we have an instance of life imitating art. On the other hand, did Stone write his own life into Ahearn’s to mask an imagination impaired by a fog of debilitating pain and intoxication?  Within Child we find evidence of this sad possibility.  Although Bay of Souls is a powerful and very interesting book, it was Stone’s only novel that did not receive critical acclaim.  Its beginning is a copy of “Dominion,” major turning points in its plot mirror similar events in Stone’s life, and a decade would pass before Stone published his next and final novel, Death of a Black-Haired Girl. The answer to the question of whether the work of Robert Stone belongs closer to the position staked out by Aristotle than it does to the camp established by Wilde cannot be found in Child of Light.  But Child supplies sufficient relevant information coupled with astute literary analyses that enables its readers to develop educated opinions and to provide an informed springboard to wherever such an inquiry would lead. When I finished Child, I had a feeling that I’d lost a friend I’d known well and had admired.  Not wanting the story to end, not wanting to believe that Bob Stone’s life had ended, I wanted to turn back to page one and begin reading again. One day I will read this book again.  But this spring, Madison Smartt Bell has published three books that I know of.  In addition to authoring Child of Light, he has edited and written an introduction to and commentary for The Eye You See With: Selected Nonfiction of Robert Stone.  And he has edited a Library of America compendium of three Robert Stone novels: Dog Soldiers, A Flag for Sunrise, and Outerbridge Reach.   

  7. 5 out of 5

    Dave

    Just finished Madison Smart Bell’s extensive literary biography of Robert Stone Child of Light, and I’m blown away by the story of this giant of American literature who channeled his enormous intellect, moral questioning, and suffering from the long-term effects of his addictions into a handful of marvelous novels, especially Dog Soldiers, A Flag for Sunrise, and Outerbridge Reach. Remember meeting him at readings on two different occasions and found him very gracious and kind. Bell does a terri Just finished Madison Smart Bell’s extensive literary biography of Robert Stone Child of Light, and I’m blown away by the story of this giant of American literature who channeled his enormous intellect, moral questioning, and suffering from the long-term effects of his addictions into a handful of marvelous novels, especially Dog Soldiers, A Flag for Sunrise, and Outerbridge Reach. Remember meeting him at readings on two different occasions and found him very gracious and kind. Bell does a terrific job outlining the history, plots and themes of Stone’s writings, which has encouraged me to give them a second reading. Yes, it’s a shame that his addictions prevented him from producing more, but I wonder if the extent of theses behaviors gave more space for the material to ferment and develop, giving these books a greater resonance? Who knows. Another theme in his work and his life is mystery and questions unanswered. Nothing is free had been Robert Stone’s mantra, and his novels and his life have thoroughly demonstrated that to be the case. This biography can be read as a great introduction to his work, or as an augmentation to those who have read and appreciated the depth and breath of this literary giant.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Rick

    Robert Stone is right at the top of the list as one of my favorite writers. This biography By Madison Smart Bell is a first rate account of Stone's highly interesting life and it also dives deeply into all his major works of fiction. In his novels Stone was interested in placing his characters in extreme positions and seeing how well or badly they reacted to their circumstances. For the most part his characters fall well short on things. My favorite Stone novel is Dog Soldiers but I remember rea Robert Stone is right at the top of the list as one of my favorite writers. This biography By Madison Smart Bell is a first rate account of Stone's highly interesting life and it also dives deeply into all his major works of fiction. In his novels Stone was interested in placing his characters in extreme positions and seeing how well or badly they reacted to their circumstances. For the most part his characters fall well short on things. My favorite Stone novel is Dog Soldiers but I remember reading all his major works and they stuck with me far more than a lot of other good writing. I don't think there is anyone writing in America right now that comes close to Stone's talents. His books really capture the last 50 crazy years in America. Stone died before Trump was elected and it is a shame not to have his lucid intelligence to comment on the current madness. do yourself a favor and grab a Robert Stone novel. I plan to go back to his work again.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Tim Weed

    I found this book affecting and extremely hard to put down, which is rare for me when it comes to "magisterial" biographies. Part of it may have been that I am a huge fan of Robert Stone's fiction, and also had the excellent fortune to have been a student of his in two master classes—at the 92nd Street Y and in Key West. He was one of the best writing teachers I ever had—kind, insightful, brilliant on the craft of fiction, an utterly inspiring presence—and I consider his novels, especially A Fla I found this book affecting and extremely hard to put down, which is rare for me when it comes to "magisterial" biographies. Part of it may have been that I am a huge fan of Robert Stone's fiction, and also had the excellent fortune to have been a student of his in two master classes—at the 92nd Street Y and in Key West. He was one of the best writing teachers I ever had—kind, insightful, brilliant on the craft of fiction, an utterly inspiring presence—and I consider his novels, especially A Flag for Sunrise and Outerbridge Reach, to be some of the finest I've ever read. All that aside, this is simply a great biography: beautifully written, well-paced, and full of rich and interesting detail. I feel I know Stone much better for having read it, and my admiration hasn't dulled in the slightest. Thank you for your good work, Mr. Bell; this book is a gift and I'm so glad to own it. Highest recommendation, obviously.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Evan

    Boring biography of a fascinating novelist. The author exhaustively chronicles dates and places, while almost entirely overlooking ideas and emotions. For example, you learn the dates on which Stone bought or sold various properties, but you learn nothing about his relationship with his children. The author sends an unjustifiable amount of time describing his own minor relationship with Stone, giving it greater valence any other relationship other than Stone's wife. The writing itself is done in Boring biography of a fascinating novelist. The author exhaustively chronicles dates and places, while almost entirely overlooking ideas and emotions. For example, you learn the dates on which Stone bought or sold various properties, but you learn nothing about his relationship with his children. The author sends an unjustifiable amount of time describing his own minor relationship with Stone, giving it greater valence any other relationship other than Stone's wife. The writing itself is done in a folksy-hippie tone (i.e. using the word "grog" many, many times). This adds little to the story, but does ultimately suggest that the biographer was as interested in shoring up his own brand as he was in capturing his subject. Call it a double failure. Despite all this, glimpses of Stone do occasionally shine through.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Katreniah

    As a creative writer, I can't believe that I'd never heard of Bob Stone, even in passing or in any of my English or creative writing classes. He'd definitely lived a fascinating life, and I love that each of his novels is given time and detail in the book. I think that it was also a more interesting book having been written by another novelist who spent time with Stone and who knew his wife as well. That kind of insider view - still tinged with respect - gave it more insight than if it had been As a creative writer, I can't believe that I'd never heard of Bob Stone, even in passing or in any of my English or creative writing classes. He'd definitely lived a fascinating life, and I love that each of his novels is given time and detail in the book. I think that it was also a more interesting book having been written by another novelist who spent time with Stone and who knew his wife as well. That kind of insider view - still tinged with respect - gave it more insight than if it had been written by someone without that point of view.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Deborah

    Superb and definitive biography of one of America's iconic novelists, whose career spanned fifty years, but whose fiction centered on the fallout from the cultural paroxysms of the sixties. Bell's account is so engagingly readable, and Stone's story so cinematic in scope and drama, that this biography reads like the best fiction.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Paul Wilner

    Masterful biography of a great American writer. My notice, for ZYZZYVA magazine, is at the link below: https://www.zyzzyva.org/2020/04/15/ch... Masterful biography of a great American writer. My notice, for ZYZZYVA magazine, is at the link below: https://www.zyzzyva.org/2020/04/15/ch...

  14. 5 out of 5

    Karen

    Book arrived in very good condition. Have not read it yet. It has been put into my library. Hope to read it soon. Thank you.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Janet

    Interesting. This was a Goodreads giveaway winner.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Cathy Gonzalez

    Excellent

  17. 5 out of 5

    Amy Weintraub

    Maybe since earning my MFA or maybe never have I thought about the moral and theological questions distilled in a story in the way Madison Smartt Bell made me ponder them in Child of Light. This was an intense read for me. I was enthralled by the deep and close reading of Stone’s work. The plot summaries and the analysis of character and theme, especially as reflected in the smokey mirror of his life, were riveting. The story of Stone's two trips with Bell to Haiti was like reading a novel.The f Maybe since earning my MFA or maybe never have I thought about the moral and theological questions distilled in a story in the way Madison Smartt Bell made me ponder them in Child of Light. This was an intense read for me. I was enthralled by the deep and close reading of Stone’s work. The plot summaries and the analysis of character and theme, especially as reflected in the smokey mirror of his life, were riveting. The story of Stone's two trips with Bell to Haiti was like reading a novel.The framework Bell erected for each of Stone’s novels puts me in mind of the temple that surrounds the inner sanctum that only the high priest may enter. Child of Light gives me access, and now I want more. From my local indie bookseller, I have just ordered Damascus Gate and Prime Green by Robert Stone, the latter because of a piece of fiction I started at the beginning of the year set among radicals in D.C. in 1969, and their infiltration by the Feds. I also ordered Madison Smartt Bell's Behind the Moon. I've enjoyed Bell's fiction in the past, and I appreciated this biography because, as a friend and admirer of Stone's fiction, Bell was close enough to Robert Stone to reflect deeply on what informed his character and his writing life.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Dr. David M. Gallin

  19. 4 out of 5

    Karen Hope

  20. 4 out of 5

    Ted

  21. 4 out of 5

    Edward

  22. 4 out of 5

    Christine Young

  23. 4 out of 5

    Bob Wake

  24. 5 out of 5

    Jesse K

  25. 5 out of 5

    Rick

  26. 4 out of 5

    Nonheagan

  27. 5 out of 5

    Joan Gustavson

  28. 4 out of 5

    Tori Drake

  29. 4 out of 5

    Zeke

  30. 5 out of 5

    John Dimoia

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