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Fun with Problems Hardcover – January 11, 2010

3.6 out of 5 stars 49 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. Lonely and frustrated lives are explored in this new collection from the National Book Award–winning author of Dog Soldiers. Stone's evocative prose treads through the murky waters of dead dreams and waning hopes, bringing out the pathetic and nasty side of people warped by addiction, sex, violence and time. Characters are almost blind to redemption, like the alcoholic professor-artist of The Archer who lashes out at a world that wants to celebrate him, or the Silicon Valley executive in From the Lowlands who has built a mansion, only to discover that no matter how much of the world you conquer, there's always something hunting you. High Wire, a story about a Hollywood screenwriter's on again/off again affair and friendship with a bipolar actress, condenses the years between the death of Elvis Presley and the rise of Bill Clinton into a wrenching treatise on love, addiction, success and failure. Stone doesn't just let his wounded characters whimper in the corner. He turns them loose on a world hard enough to knock them down but indifferent enough to not care about them once they're gone. (Jan.)
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From Booklist

These stories are no feel-good tonic. Stone does not dabble in the heartwarming, but rather mines the depravity of weirdos whose success resides in having not died by the end of the story. In the entanglements Stone crafts, mere survival is no small feat. The stories are witty and diverse and are all unified by some element of brokenness. Whether it be alcoholic painter, drug-guzzling screenwriter, or small-town attorney, each protagonist remains despicable yet demands a certain sympathy. Everyone is broken, but nothing has yet to fall apart. In “High Wire,” a story about the unraveling of a Hollywood set, Stone writes “Suffering is illuminating, as they say, and in my pain I almost learned something about myself.” Each character comes closer and closer to truth, but heartbreakingly, never quite turns the corner. You know they are on the right track though and that makes suffering with these characters enjoyable. The epithet for Fun with Problems could read: folks who don’t fail all of the time. --Blair Parsons

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 208 pages
  • Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt; First Edition edition (January 11, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0618386254
  • ISBN-13: 978-0618386253
  • Product Dimensions: 8.6 x 6.1 x 0.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 11.2 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (49 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,285,897 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

ROBERT STONE is the author of seven novels: A Hall of Mirrors, Dog Soldiers (winner of the National Book Award), A Flag for Sunrise, Children of Light, Outerbridge Reach, Damascus Gate, and Bay of Souls. His story collection, Bear and His Daughter, was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize, and his memoir, Prime Green, was published in 2006.

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Remarkable. I have read Dog Soldiers, but this is of a different order. This is a book about what comes after hope. Stone puts it best in the last story, when, a character compares his seascape to that of an earlier artist:

"The good early stuff, all those wild whirling colored lights, was about the teeming overripe possibilities of the coming age...maybe his was about the exhaustion of those possibilities, the disappearance of that time, the great abridgment of the popular age. The ghost of a century, a show closing down for the lack of interest."

To me, that is a broader statement that is not about two paintings, but really about two eras. Stone is an artist now, but he came of age at a brighter time, when people were re-imagining the possibilities for lives and for our society. Now, forty years on, Stone is assessing his, and his generation's, finistere. Those ideas resonate throughout this book.

Stone's collection of sevens stories presents a set of individuals who experience the costs of substance abuse, or of failed integrity, or of dreams set aside. They are people who have betrayed their hopes, in small ways or great: an actress whose final role will be overdose, a writer who make copy for lad mags, a classicist who writes software manuals.

One aspect of these stories is their tendency to end suddenly. The fall comes quickly, out of nowhere. These people have accidents. In particular, the chorus of drinkers, free-basers, and tweakers in these pages meet with a lot of misfortune.

This book reminds me of some of the writing of Raymond Carver. With its setting in modern California, it makes me think of how Robert Altman interpreted Raymond Carver in Short Cuts. It has echoes of Frank Bascombe or Jernigan.
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Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
There are two very different groups of readers who may be considering this book. The first is those of us who know and revere Robert Stone's best novels and ones who will come to it with fewer preconceptions. For the first group, these short stories are almost elegiac completions of his dark odysseys; they are more laconic and measured than the novels but just as disturbing in how powerfully they portray characters who have no bearings and act out the dark and repeated mini-dramas of their fatalism. The stories are vignettes, focused around an encounter--a husband still entwined in unresolved agendas with his first wife while on his honeymoon, a journalist intruding on a couple with their own darknesses, with the tale motivated around a Secretary of Defense going finally crazed, another husband being conned by a woman who enigmatically talks about it being more interesting when others think you are someone else, and, in the longest piece a long-term relationship between a writer and an actress, whose ending is inevitable but not which of the two would "walk away" from life.

Short stories are hard to bring off; they are not so much out of fashion as not well-tuned to the modern mainstream. I am not entirely sure that I would have resonated to this work as much as I do if I did not bring to them my readings of Stone's novels. I note that in an interview, Stone picked out Chekhov's short stories as something beautiful that can help you make it through the night. These have much of Chekhov's meticulous control and in a weird way his deep respect for his characters. Among American writers, only Updike seems to me to match Stone's ability in so few pages to pin down so rivetingly quiet despair. There is no moralizing and not a wasted word.
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Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
It both dismays and delights me to have discovered Robert Stone. Dismayed because he's apparently been around for awhile, and I'm only just now learning about him. Delighted because I'm just now learning about him.

This isn't a very long collection, but if these seven short stories are any indication, Stone doesn't need many words to strike the bull's eye of meaning. His lines are confident but also delicate with detail. He's one of the best wordsmiths I've stumbled across since Chang-Rae Lee or David Mitchell.

Words he puts together elegantly; plots, maybe not so much. I could complain that the stories all seem like they are about the same kinds of people having the same kinds of fun with the same kinds of problems, and that complaint's legitimate. (The synecdoche of this little book: "No one would convince him that character was fate..." That, or "They couldn't take a punch and you couldn't wake them up with one.") I don't think this singularity of purpose is a flaw, though, and I gather it is probably also one of the collection's main points.

No, the only real problem with any of these stories lies in the awkward and inelegant plot construction. For someone with a poets ear for the cadence of words, Stone oddly gets the cadences of life just a little bit wrong, rending some stories too short, some too long, and some like Frankenstein mish-mashes of different tales.
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