Robert Stone, 77, died on January 10 from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease; and although he outlived the period that best characterized his creative work for decades, somehow he remained the writer of the sixties and the seventies whose best works embodied the madness, violence and nihilism of that time.
His works have always been characterized by dark humor and a sort of bleak irony accompanying fast-paced action sequences happening in exotic locations all over the world: from a fictional post-coup Central American banana republic to Vietnam War and Jerusalem on the verge of a new millennium.
Not all of his works are equal in quality and lasting appeal – both criticists and readers agree that, for example, his last collection of short stories “Fun with Problems” turned out to be rather mediocre. Robert Stone, however, managed to make a triumphant comeback with his last novel, “Death of the Black-Haired Girl”, characterized by all the best features we’ve seen in his early works: psychological tension, intricately crafted plot, peculiar characters and the author’s strong views on the human condition.
Specialists agree that Robert Stone’s work have echoes of Graham Greene, Malcolm Lowry and Joseph Conrad about it; but it would be wrong to say that he did nothing but imitations. In his best novels, such as “Dog Soldiers”, “A Flag for Sunrise” and “Damascus Gate” he speaks in his own, very characteristic, voice: combining deep philosophic ideas with fast-paced action, powerful (sometimes even excessive) emotionality with a penchant for purple prose, political convictions with black humor.
There is something eclectic about his work, his characters, settings of his works in general. Passionate, sometimes violent hedonism of Stone’s heroes somehow naturally combines with deep-lying traditional, old-fashioned moralism, probably rooted in the author’s upbringing in a Roman-Catholic orphanage.
Stone himself attributed many of these characteristics of his fiction to his being exactly the right age in the sixties and the seventies – he and his peers at that time felt like being the part of making history, witnesses of great changes, which led to the feeling of extreme self-importance. What’s interesting, he was far from idealizing both this period and the members of counterculture. According to Stone, they were often self-destructive, vain, heedless and generally very confused. In the end, even his experiments with drugs in the early sixties led Stone to understand that his view on life is going to remain religious no matter what.
This finds its reflection in his works. Although there are a lot of extreme personalities in his books, all of them spend their existence in search of something particular, be it big money, love or the meeting with God – and when all is said and done, all of them are after salvation, which is represented differently each time.
Mr. Stone never received a Booker award (although he twice was a finalist), but he still remains a powerful and noticeable writer in his own right – an iconic representative of his generation and a master of his adopted writing style.