Book Reviews - Spring 2020

Not Quite Forgotten

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The unheralded success ofa fine American novelist

By Steven G. Kellman | March 2, 2020
Stone and his wife, Janice, in Hawaii, c. 1979. Stone had
Stone and his wife, Janice, in Hawaii, c. 1979. Stone had "the ambition and arrogance to confront the enormity of his troubled country." (Courtesy of Ruth Pratt)

Child of Light: A Biography of Robert Stone by Madison Smartt Bell; Doubleday, 608 pp., $35

A profile of novelist Robert Stone that appeared in New York magazine in 1997 offered this summary: “It has been Stone’s peculiar fate to have great success without great recognition.” Nearly 60, he had already won the National Book Award, for Dog Soldiers (1974), which was, in addition, a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. A Flag for Sunrise (1981)—which was also a finalist for the Pulitzer and the PEN/Faulkner Award—and Outerbridge Reach (1992) had been finalists for the National Book Award. More honors and bestsellers were yet to come before his death in 2015.

However, despite Madison Smartt Bell’s assertion that Stone attained “a secure place in the American literary pantheon,” nowhere is he mentioned in the Columbia Literary History of the United States (1988) or the more recent and unconventional New Literary History of America (2009). Born in 1937, Stone has already faded from cultural conversation in a way that his close contemporaries Don DeLillo (b. 1936), Thomas Pynchon (b. 1937), and Raymond Carver (b. 1938) have not. The Modern Language Association International Bibliography lists 1,039 items on DeLillo, 1,905 on Pynchon, and 413 on Carver but only 53 on Stone. Moreover, since 2010, he has been the subject of only six articles.

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