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Bay of Souls: A Novel Hardcover – April 22, 2003
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From Publishers Weekly
Stone's shortest novel, and his first in five years (after Damascus Gate, 1998), is a tight, brilliantly observed tale of one man's moral dissolution. Michael Ahearn is a respected professor of literature at a small college in the upper Midwest, with a lovely wife and 12-year-old son, but a vague dissatisfaction gnaws at him, exacerbated by a frightening incident while deer hunting and the near-death of his son from exposure. When Michael meets a new professor, the beautiful and electrifying Lara Purcell, he falls under her spell and launches an affair, endangering his marriage and his relationship with his son. At Lara's prompting, Michael travels with her to her Caribbean island home of St. Trinity, a nation rife with political violence, where Lara hopes to repossess the soul she believes has been captured by a voodoo goddess. The narrative undergoes a tonal shift on the troubled, threatening island, with events unfolding in a more intense, then nearly hallucinatory way, especially as Michael is himself possessed during a voodoo ceremony in which Lara hopes to reclaim her soul. A brief return to the U.S. mainland closes the novel on a somber note. All of Stone's characters here are etched in the acid of hard truth, with Stone probing deep-particularly into Michael, a sensitive, at times courageous man whose lust for the divine, for transcendence or salvation, is spoiled by a self-deception and self-indulgence that lead him astray and finally turn his life to ash. This is a novel of bold prose and subtle perceptions, a small, hard gem from a master writer.
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc.
Stone's seven novels seem very different on the surface, but they share a common theme: characters losing hold of their moorings. It may happen in Jerusalem (Damascus Gate ), or on the open sea (Outerbridge Reach ), or in Central America (A Flag for Sunrise )--all settings where it's easy enough to become unhinged--but the process by which Stone's people self-destruct is finally an internal one. The pattern holds in this agonizing account of how an egotistical English professor from the Midwest falls under the sway of a Caribbean femme fatale, who leads him into his own special heart of darkness. Michael Ahearn has a beautiful wife, charming young son, and comfy position at a small Minnesota college, but if you look closely, it's possible to detect some twitching just below the surface, signs that the professor is vulnerable to psychic turbulence. It comes in the form of Lara Purcell, a political science professor from the island of St. Trinity. Before you can say la belle dame sans merci, Stone is following Lara to the Caribbean, where he lands in the middle of a political insurrection, a smuggling enterprise, and a voudon-drenched struggle for Lara's soul. As always, Stone depicts the internal savaging of his hero's mind with chilling precision, and his evocation of Central America in turmoil deserves comparison with Graham Greene. This novel lacks the grand sweep of Damascus Gate, and Ahearn doesn't engender quite the empathy the story demands. Still, as a record of one man's failed attempt to confront the darkness of the universe, it is a kind of small gem: perfectly chiseled and revealing an icy clarity at its core that is as frightening as it is hypnotic. Bill Ott
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
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Midway through the course of his life, Michael Ahearn finds himself in a dark woods, with the right way obscured. From there, things really start to go downhill. Ahearn's descent into the inferno provides the reader with an exciting ride. The feeling that he deserves his fate enhanced my enjoyment of this misadventure. When we first meet Ahearn, he is a study in hypocrisy. In the opening scene, he is giving his son a bunch of transparently insincere reasons why he cannot join his father's hunting trip. We accompany Ahearn on this trip to discover that he loathes hunting, and in particular despises the kind of people who hunt to put food on the table. Ahearn sends his son to a Catholic school, although he really despises Catholics and cringes at the school's influence over his son. Ahearn likes to keep up a façade of religiosity while harboring a petulant resentment against the universe for failing to provide the fairy-tale god of his childhood Sunday school classes.
For most of the story, we are limited to Ahearn's perception. We really are not given any insight into his wife's feelings, although we can see that she is distant and discontent. We see Ahearn becoming infatuated with a woman who really quite frightening. The point of view is quite effective here because any attempt to explain or interpret this relationship would be impossible. You simply have to accept that it is happening. The limited narration is especially effective at the end of the story, because Ahearn does not seem to understand why he has become frightening to others. We merely see them being frightened for no apparent reason. But Ahearn seems as benighted spiritually as he ever was. The meaning of his experience to the author remains rather vague. I think this made the novel less satisfying then Stone's earlier works.