Robert Stone,
Bay of Souls
(Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2003)

Robert Stone casually introduces us to a refined Argentinian in Bay of Souls who seems to be a government official. What he does is throw people out of airplanes over the Atlantic.

The plane circles until the very moment of sunrise or sunset before the deed is done. While they circle, he reads French poetry to the weeping victim. Then, on the verge of the big push, he takes out a handkerchief to wipe the victim's tears. The handkerchief has been taken from the poor guy's wife or lover to intensify the horror as the scent of the beloved is inhaled in the moments before death. Sometimes, the victim asks if there are sharks below. He is assured there are no sharks in the south Atlantic. "You'll see."

That's Stone in a nutshell. He's a bone chiller, old Bob. That's what I mainly read him for, the way he intimates there are things going on out there that you really don't want to know about. But he's gonna tell you anyway.

This is not top-quality Stone (A Flag for Sunrise is his masterpiece). Lara might as well be wearing a flashing neon sign saying "dangerous femme fatale." Michael is a Stone archetype -- the academic who thinks he's worldly, but gets in way over his head.

I do like the way he off handedly tosses in a major plot point, such as when opens a chapter saying that Lara flew to Washington "on their money."

I've read all Stone's books and I believe I would recognize his prose in a blind taste test. Oblique dialogue. Agonizing introspection. Weird sex. Barbarity disguised in cosmopolitan sophistication. Third-world decadence and corruption. The sea, the awful sea.

review by
Dave Sturm

19 June 2010

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