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Death of the Black Haired Girl [Hardcover]

Robert Stone
4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)

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Book Description

12 Nov 2013

In an elite New England college, Professor Steven Brookman embarks upon a careless affair with a brilliant but reckless student, Maud Stack. She is a young woman whose passions are not easily contained or curtailed, and is known as something of a firebrand on campus.

As the stakes of their relationship prove higher than either one could have anticipated, their union seems destined to yield tragic and far-reaching consequences.

--This text refers to the Paperback edition.

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Houghton Mifflin (Trade) (12 Nov 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0618386238
  • ISBN-13: 978-0618386239
  • Product Dimensions: 21.5 x 15 x 2.4 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 735,247 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Review

Robert Stone's fast-paced new novel. . . takes as its presiding muse not Conrad or Graham Greene, but Nathaniel Hawthorne. . . His gift for orchestrating suspense and dramatic scenes - so vividly on display in "Damascus Gate," his 1998 novel set in Jerusalem and Gaza - is deployed here with efficiency and élan. As is his talent for charting his characters' psychological and spiritual longings. . . . The result is at once a Hawthorne-like allegory and a sure-footed psychological thriller. (New York Times)

In his fiction, Robert Stone is immersed no less profoundly in envisioning the drama of human evil in action than was the great French Catholic novelist and Nobel Laureate, Francois Mauriac. Not only with his brilliant new novel, Death of the Black-Haired Girl but from the early novels such as Dog Soldiers and A Flag at Sunrise down to later books like Damascus Gate and Bay of Souls, he has demonstrated again and again that he is no less a master than Mauriac of the tragic novel--of depicting the fatal inner workings of revenge, hatred, betrayal, and zealotry--and that, like Mauriac, he is the pitiless guardian of a cast of sufferers on whose tribulations he manages to bestow a kind of shattered mercy. (Philip Roth)

A masterly, insightful and compact rendering of these human beings in turmoil. . . It's in a book such as this, at least while we're immersed in its reverberant pages, that we can find the only place where meaning, as dark as it might be, emerges as a balm against nothingness. Anyone who loves fine fiction has no choice but to read this novel now. (San Francisco Chronicle)

A compressed story with the swift metabolism of a thriller (Wall Street Journal)

Behind the knowing air of Robert Stone's brilliant, mysterious new novel, a vision lurks of America as a Puritanical, death-haunted country, where casual sins of the flesh stand in for crimes far more ancient and profound.[The novel is] a riff on the procedural whose pleasures are deeper than its lean page-count suggests. Stone uncoils these pleasures with taut, often graceful economy.."Death of the Black-Haired Girl" starts to feel less like Elmore Leonard and more like a descendant of Hawthorne, a moral fable bent on revelation. (The Washington Post)

Stone is a master storyteller whose keen observations bring the reader to some very unfriendly and dark places. A thought provoking book, Death of the Black Haired Girl moves with compulsive momentum, pulling you in from the very first page. Totally gripping. (New York Journal of Books)

Robert Stone, lapidary in his prose, is continent also in his output. Graham Greene is in some ways his most natural antecedent.[Stone] tackles a genre - frequently the thriller but, in the case of his latest book, the campus novel - and twists it to his purposes in ways that surprise and provoke. A subtle writer, he demands an attentive reader as he explores, through superficially familiar narratives, substantial themes. (New York Times Book Review) --This text refers to the Paperback edition.

Book Description

From one of America's most acclaimed contemporary novelists, a searingly powerful literary thriller --This text refers to the Paperback edition.

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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Another blistering shot from the dark side 19 Jan 2014
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
I'll keep this short. Any new writing from Robert Stone is an uneasy journey into the foggy reaches of humanity, yet with time these trips become strangely comforting as he weaves his magic and confronts us with an consistently stark, but compassionate vision. OK, so he could write two lines on a postcard and I'd probably probably find something to love.
If you like your lit bleak with a punch, read all his work. This is an author who should have become massive years ago, and remained so.
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Amazon.com: 3.3 out of 5 stars  56 reviews
21 of 24 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars TRAGEDY'S MODERN-DAY VARIANT FORM 13 Nov 2013
By David Keymer - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
There are no kings, queens, princes or princesses in Death of a Black-Haired Girl, no highborn types at all, but still it is a tragedy. In this case, the protagonists are ordinary people -a professor, the young woman who is his student, and the young woman's father. The professor isn't a bad man but he coasts through life without much thought about the consequences of his actions and this time, he's gotten himself in trouble. He's had an affair with a student -a bright, impetuous, not terribly disciplined young woman who reminds him of what it's like to be young and passionate--and now he needs to get out of the affair. She doesn't want out and she winds up outside his house, yelling taunts to his wife and him. He comes out to reason with her. She gets even angrier with him. She pulls away, runs -or is shoved? It's not clear--into the road, and is hit by a car. Fatally. And this is where the tragedy begins. As in the tragedies of old, events concatenate in effects. By the end of the book, the lives of the professor and his wife and of the young girl's father are fatally changed. No dramatic deaths or pyrotechnic confrontations ensue, but the people most affected by the death don't return to their lives unchanged.

Around this story, baldly told, Stone gracefully weaves other stories -of a former nun, sometimes revolutionary in South America, now a low-tier counselor at the posh New England college where the professor teaches, of the dead student's actress roommate and her trials with her religious zealot ex-husband, and bits of pieces of the stories of the other actors in this drama.

Early in the book, the student, Maud, drops off her class essay for the professor, Brookman, to read. It's on Marlowe's Faustus and she has zeroed in on one passage in it:

Faustus has asked Mephistopheles "how he manages to wander about tempting obsessed intellectuals while doing time in hell." "Why this is hell," says the Diabolus, "nor am I out of it."

That response could be the hallmark for this book, because it's about people making their own hells, whether they intended to or not.

Stone is an acute observer of ambience and societal trends. The college where Bookman teaches is a prestigious one but it is under attack from the decaying city around it. Gates, formerly unlocked and open to all, are now double and triple locked. Only the safe are allowed in but even they aren't always safe. As to the city outside:

... the small children in the old wooden tenements that Norman Rockwell liked to people with his folk didn't know jump-rope rhymes anymore, couldn't play stickball or hopscotch or choose up sides going one potato two potato. In summer the basketball courts were empty. Grandma weighs ninety pounds, she's on crack, mom's a slave or turning tricks at interstate rest areas, adolescent dad's working on his prison tats or wearing curlers for his roomie. All the graffiti is black.
Some might have thought tat the two parts of the city ... didn't intersect, but they did. Heroin had found a niche on both banks of the Mill River, its glint detectable to the aware in such unlikely realms as fashion photography. Junkie chic had not disappeared and heroin still outsold cocaine.

Late in the book, Brookman reflects on all that has happened: "Can I have brought down all this death in life on us [just] through my fondness for a pretty girl?" Yes, he has, but maybe that's what tragedy looks like in the Brave New World we live in now.
15 of 17 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Mercifully, this is a short book 25 Nov 2013
By Serapis - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
The premise of this book is simple -- a college professor cheats on his wife with a brilliant, moody student, the student falls in love with the professor, he rebuffs her, and she dies in a tragic accident. There's no mystery surrounding her death, and the reader isn't exactly drawn in to the tawdry details of the affair. That's because the meat of this book takes place on a different, more spiritual plane. The main characters seem to exist solely so the author can expound on his own philosophies regarding morality, religion, and the failings of the Catholic Church. He does so in a heavy-handed way. The college is located next to door to an abortion clinic, which attracts the stereotypical pro-life fundamentalists. A former nun, who acts as the moralistic compass, is spiritual in her own way but it fed up with Catholicism. The professor's wife is a Mennonite, which is treated by the author as a strange cult. As a result, none of the characters in this book are likable simply because there isn't enough information about them. The former nun gets the most background treatment via flashbacks to when she was a missionary in South America (and the village was ruled by a power-hungry, evil Catholic priest).

Mercifully, this is a short book. The real shame is that it's wonderfully written; Stone truly is an excellent writer. One just gets very tired of his moral ramblings.

My interest in this book was piqued because I had never read Robert Stone before, and the book got a typically glowing review in the NY Times. I should have known better.
49 of 62 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars If Robert Stone's Fans Don't Love It, Where Does That Leave Me? 1 Nov 2013
By Scott E. High - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
This is my first effort at reading a Robert Stone novel. Whenever Amazon Vine offers me unfamiliar authors, I always go to that author's book page and look over the titles and reviews of prior works. Based on what I read, it appeared that Robert Stone is an accomplished author with a serious following. So I ordered DEATH OF A BLACK-HAIRED GIRL and eagerly started reading a book written by "one of America's greatest living writers".

OOPS! Once in a while my strategy backfires. My first problem was trying to figure out what type of book the author was trying to write. And I'm still trying to figure it out. It's not suspenseful, it's not a thriller, and it's not "an irresistibly compelling tale". What it seems to be is an interesting character study of several imperfect individuals whose lives intersect and then bounce off each other based on their experiences and motivations. Randomness if you will.

The underlying current of this story is that madness is everywhere and hiding in plain sight. Mentally ill individuals (who were previously incarcerated) now drift through society and often mingle with 'normal people', sometimes interacting in sudden and unexpected ways. The social patterns of the mentally ill are often characterized by random acts--just as they are for the rest of us. Sometimes there is just no good reason for bad things that happen.

This book is almost a treatise on that. While the author threw in a few red herrings that would lead the reader to consider potential logical conclusions, no such result was forthcoming. It ended up being just one of those things that sometimes happen. If anyone out there has a favorite Robert Stone novel that is more representative of his work, feel free to recommend it to me. Thanks.
8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars I don't give five stars often 4 Dec 2013
By saintmaur - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
I always pay attention to books that get reviews like these: very mixed but very thoughtful reflections from its readers, happy and unhappy. The variety of responses is a clue that something important may going on here. Indeed I believe there is. First, there is Stone's razor-sharp observations of the contemporary world: anyone who has worked at a liberal arts college knows that his understanding of such places, with their potent mixture of idealism and repressiveness, is spot on. The shadowy word of druggies, thieves and various Others that surround his fair Arcadian hill give us the same sense of danger as when the hapless Eloi of The Time Machine vaguely sense the presence of the Morlocks who power their paradise from below with human food. Walk down York Street in New Haven someday and observe the shiny black window bars protecting the Yalies within.
Then there are passages like the following, "Some schools were said to instruct their students on the techniques for ruling the world. A revered visionary of the nineteenth century had said Brookman's college thought of itself as examining the moral authority of privilege, which was far more high-minded, and exactly the same thing." These two sentences are a good example of how Stone can encapsulate in just a few words such complex issues as the unconscious hypocrisy of liberal colleges, the schizophrenia of the Catholic Church, or the molten/frozen core of a 20 -year marriage.
Allied to this is Stone's ability to draw not only rounded characters, but to hint at their whole history in just a few words. He effortlessly reveals how some minor character has an entire life that is brought to bear on a single moment in the story ....and we realize that a novel could be written about this person as well, and indeed that we have been given its essential plot. And then Stone gives us more: a sense, only a whiff sometimes, of how that life has made necessary the acts of that character at the moment.
This deftly-suggested inevitability suggests what this strange, ambiguous story is really all about. The subject is the nature of God and justice, and the inescapable tribunal of the human conscience. This hip, brief, modern story is, at its barely graspable core, a Greek tragedy, or very like one...a world of hubris and forbidden passion that lay bare in their consequences both the essence of the characters and the cosmic Order which they have, willy-nilly, upset. And finally, it is about the destruction that falls on them as retribution...or accident. Sophocles would approve.
9 of 11 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Pretentious 21 Nov 2013
By Richard A. Mitchell - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
I selected this book by the reputation of the author. Another lesson learned, I guess - never judge a book by its author. If one word were to describe this novel it would be "pretentious". Its setting is a pretentious New England college where fires are still lit every morning by the underlings. The main characters are a pretentious professor and his even more pretentious student and one time lover. The writing is the most pretentious of all the aspects. At first I thought it might be satire, but it is not. It seemed as if it were written by the stereotypical ivory tower professor.

There is very little plot. The book consists of mostly disparate character portraits. They never get to the depth of character studies because the book tries to hit so many characters in a short span.

Frankly, I was pretty pleased when the book ended. There is not much to recommend this book.
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