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Robert Stone: Children of Light

With Stone, we know that there will a series of characters who will end up colliding, usually drastically, that their journey to the ultimate crash will probably be fuelled by drugs/booze, that their previous lives have been messed up, leaving them scarred, possibly fatally scarred, and that the end will involve death for some and further and probably permanent scarring for the others. Stone does not disappoint here though, unlike in his previous novels, there are only two main characters here heading rapidly down the slippery slope.

We start with Gordon Walker, a screenwriter and occasional actor. He has recently been acting in King Lear. However, his marriage has failed and he is strung out on drugs and drink. Ten years previously, he had written the screenplay for a version of Kate Chopin‘s The Awakening and it is now been filmed in Mexico and stars Lee Verger (whose real name is Lu Anne Bourgeois) and who is Walker’s former lover. He decides to visit her, despite the fact he is told that he will not be very welcome. We follow his picaresque journey, with his meeting with various former off-beat cronies and purveyors of drugs. Arriving at the set, he eventually finds Lu Anne. She has managed to keep going because of the drugs – she is a schizophrenic and apparently based on Stone’s mother. However, to help her performance, she has given up the drugs and is about to go crazy. Her husband and children have left, knowing what will happen. Walker does not help, giving her the wrong kind of drugs, and the result is inevitable.

Perhaps because it is not as seriously messy as his previous books – only the two main characters really suffer – the book seems less intense and therefore less effective than his previous novels. This is not to say that it isn’t a good read – it certainly is – but that it doesn’t deliver the same powerful America-is-really-fucked-up message of those other works. It is still very funny and, at times, very disturbing, just not as manic.

Publishing history

First published 1986 by Knopf