In William Golding's landmark The Lord Of The Flies we weep for "the end of innocence, the darkness of man's heart." The heart's blackness is mourned again in two sharply drawn story collections. Despair is their leit motif.
Emotionally scarred, the characters in these tales are fragmented by substance abuse, by obdurate personal demons or both. Nonetheless, such unengaging personalities become compelling when presented by a pair of Pulitzer Prize nominees writing at top form. The child of a schizophrenic mother and unknown father, Robert Stone spent three years in an orphanage. Later, as a New Orleans census taker, he walked that city's back streets. With Bear And His Daughter, seven intense tales penned between 1969 and today, he depicts communal deadends and the dissolute souls trapped therein.
Begin with "Miserere." A widowed librarian's bitterness becomes a mission to have aborted fetuses receive the church's blessing. Another vignette explores the effects of childhood violence: "The worst of it, Mackay says, was the absence of mercy. Once the punishment began, no amount of crying or pleading would stay the prefect's hand. Each blow followed upon the last, inexorably like the will of God. It was the will of God."
The title story sears as it traces the downward spiral of a visit by an alcoholic poet to his drug addicted emotionally deprived daughter. The author's chilling denouement rivals Euripidean tragedies.
Robert Stone's writing is edgy, scalpel keen. He probes, cuts, laying back the protective coverings of our human condition. He well knows life's underside.