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Death of the Black-Haired Girl Hardcover – November 12, 2013

3.2 out of 5 stars 84 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

*Starred Review* Set on campus, Stone’s novel features Maud, smart, beautiful, and full of passion for her convictions and her married professor. Professor Brookman, in turn, has ill-advisedly returned her affections. Unsure if it’s love or obsession, Brookman is already aware that this affair will not end well. Maud, after passing antiabortion demonstrators outside a women’s clinic, rashly writes a diatribe against small-mindedness and hypocrisy for the Gazette, unleashing much fury among groups on campus and elsewhere. And when the tragic, sudden, and inevitable death of the black-haired girl does finally strike, it is shocking. Although Stone (Dog Soldiers, 1974; Damascus Gate, 1998) introduces a cast of menacing and motivated characters, he is interested less in whodunit than in questions of fate and of faith. “Old stuff comes back,” he writes. Poor judgment and reckless acts have consequences, not just for the lovers but also for those in their orbit, among them, Maud’s dad, a retired cop dying of emphysema; her roommate, a B-movie actress with a restraining order on her fanatical ex-husband; Brookman’s wife and daughter; and Maud’s student counselor, an ex-nun and former revolutionary. Stone’s world, full of ominous forebodings, is populated by characters familiar to readers of his novels: the disaffected, the politically naive, and the world weary—lost souls who have lost their faith and others with false faith. High-Demand Backstory: The publication of any book by Stone is a literary event; this one is no exception. --Ben Segedin

Review

"Anyone who loves fine fiction has no choice but to read this novel now."
San Francisco Chronicle

"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

"Stone imbues his characters with a rare depth that makes each one worthy of his or her own novel. With its atmosphere of dread starting on page one, this story will haunt readers for some time."
Publishers Weekly

"Robert Stone is one of our transcendently great American novelists. In Death of the Black-Haired Girl he turns an unflinching gaze into the darkest crevices of the human psyche, where glimmers of redemption are extremely hard-won. This fast-paced, riveting novel reflects a vivid and unforgettable image of what we have made of ourselves, in this country, at the turn of 21st century so far."
—Madison Smartt Bell

"Robert Stone is a vastly intelligent and entertaining writer, a divinely troubled holy terror ever in pursuit of an absconded God and His purported love. Stone’s superb work with its gallery of remarkable characters is further enhanced here by his repellently smug professor, Steve Brookman, and the black-haired girl’s hopelessly grieving father, Eddie Stack."
—Joy Williams

"The death of a star student at an upper-crust university unsettles friends, faculty and family in a piercing novel from veteran novelist Stone...What emerges from Stone’s crisp storytelling is a critique of tribalism of all sorts—religious, academic, police—that doesn’t damn those institutions but reveals how they work to protect their own interests at the expense of those of others. An unusual but poised mix of noir and town-and-gown novel, bolstered by Stone’s well-honed observational skills."
Kirkus, starred

"The publication of any book by Stone is a literary event; this one is no exception."
Booklist, starred

 "Stone (Dog Soldiers; Damascus Gate) is a major literary figure, and this novel is readable, tense, and stimulating. Vivid scenes with razor-sharp dialog are plentiful; a powerful work." —Library Journal, starred

“Complex, beguiling and brimming with emotion, this book turned me, an avowed literary-fiction reader, into a Robert Stone fan.”  — Real Simple

 “[A] masterful glimpse at the indifference of the universe. As with all Stone's fiction, the complex characters are all wounded, but each has his or her own forgivably human story…Stone continues his search for compassion and meaning in a world with too little of each.”— Shelf Awareness

“At once unsparing and generous in its vision of humanity, by turns propulsive and poetic, ‘Death of the Black-Haired Girl’ is wise, brave, and beautifully just.” —Priscilla Gilman, The Boston Globe

“A compressed story with the swift metabolism of a thriller” —Alexandra Alter, Wall Street Journal

“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.” —Claire Messud, New York Times Book Review

“In the hands of a master, this simple framework is woven into introspective narrative that will have you recalling the characters, questioning their motives and pondering their decisions for quite some time…a full inspection of faith, fate and family.” —The Oklahoman

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. -- Mark Saunders, The Washington Post

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt; First Edition edition (November 12, 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0618386238
  • ISBN-13: 978-0618386239
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.9 x 8.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (84 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #621,452 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Scott E. High TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on November 1, 2013
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.
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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.
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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 ....
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