Select one of the keywords
Death of the Black-Haired Girl    by Robert Stone Amazon.com order for
Death of the Black-Haired Girl
by Robert Stone
Order:  USA  Can
Harcourt, 2013 (2013)
Hardcover, CD, e-Book
* * *   Reviewed by Tim Davis

With a distinguished reputation for award-winning literary fiction, but without having published a novel in the last decade, the author of seven previous novels, Robert Stone, returns with an intriguing story of love, death, alienation, and madness. Set in the United States - an unusual setting for Stone's novels - Death of the Black-Haired Girl introduces readers to a fascinating group of flawed characters in an unsettled society.

Maud Stack, the so-called 'spoiled college girl' is described by others at her elite northeastern college as demure and innocent but heedless and demanding. Steven Brookman, as a veteran teacher with a wife and daughter, is - perhaps too much like Maud - a passionate person who is not immune to obsession and error.

Jo Carr, the former nun and current counselor, is a spiritually conflicted woman who cannot escape her haunting recollections of the dark past. Shelby Magoffin, Maud's roommate, is the free-spirited drama major who has been in a couple of low-budget movies but must now contend with numerous distractions, not the least of which is her deranged ex-husband.

Eddie Stack, retired NYC police officer and Maud's father, has - for the moment - put his not so distinguished career and his debilitating alcoholism behind him (at least he is not drinking at the moment), but he is almost certainly dying of emphysema. Lieutenant Lou Salmone is Eddie Stack's old friend and a relentless investigator who will not rest until questions about the hit-and-run death of a certain black-haired girl can be answered: Was it merely an unavoidable accident? Was it an intentional homicide in response to the off-campus right-to-life and pro-choice tensions? Did the dead girl's former lover contribute to the death?

While these characters are sorting out their complicated lives - and dealing with death - they all make life-changing discoveries. Some will discover that so-called innocent love is simply a na´ve illusion. Others will discover that madness - however that is defined by each person - is everywhere and inescapable. After all, they are all living in a seemingly deranged society in which there are sometimes devastating consequences to mistakes involving infidelity, irresponsibility, and temptation.

Remarkable for its vibrant characterization, straight-forward style, and provocative themes, Stone's novel stands as an indictment of a society in which estrangement dominates each character's life. Even as characters are reaching out for each other - and even as Stone's insightful dialogue and poignant narrative underscore those efforts - the characters, in the end, have only themselves. And that isolation leads to misery within the miasma of their post-modern world.

Finally, if I were asked to characterize this highly recommended novel in one word, I would simply call it a tragedy. Inhabiting a chaotic and uncaring universe, one over which there seems to be no divine guidance or interest, even though some committed believers would wish it otherwise, the black-haired girl, a truly dazzling protagonist - because of her hubris and errors - must face the ultimate penalty. And as for all of those who surround the doomed protagonist, whether they embrace her or reject her, try as they might, none of them will escape their own inevitable pain and suffering.

Note: Opinions expressed in reviews and articles on this site are those of the author(s) and not necessarily those of BookLoons.

Find more Contemporary books on our Shelves or in our book Reviews