Bay of Souls: A Novel

Houghton Mifflin

Robert Stone

Central Theme
When a man loses his belief, he will replace it with something else. Replacing it with a confidence in randomness and experience, vitalism, may be less satisfying than a doubter’s, diminished belief.

“Robert Stone’s remarkable new novel is a psychological thriller of razor-sharp intensity: mysterious, erotic, and deeply readable. Michael Ahearn, a professor at a rural college, sheds his comfortable assumptions when he becomes obsessed with a new faculty member from the Caribbean, Lara Purcell. An expert in Third World politics, Lara is seductive, dangerous and in thrall, she claims, to a voodoo spirit who has taken possession of her soul. Impassioned and determined, Michael pursues Lara to her native island of St. Trinity, heedless of the political upheaval there. Together they desperately attempt to reclaim all that Lara has lost. Yet island intrigue ensnares them. Lara sacrifices herself to ritual and superstition. Michael is caught unawares in a high-stakes smuggling scheme. In his feverish state of mind, the world becomes an ever-shifting phantasmagoria. He is, himself, possessed. In Bay of Souls, readers will recognize the trademarks of Stone’s greatest fiction: the American embroiled in Third World corruption, the diplomats and covert operatives, the idealists and opportunists. Yet here the author’s sights are set inward, to a place where politics is superfluous, experience unreliable. Never before has Stone probed so powerfully the psychological depths of one man’s mind. What he finds there defies expectations.” (Houghton Mifflin)

Robert Stone’s works chronicle the journeys of fictional characters who have active minds and hungry souls. In that sense his work has always embodied a spiritual dimension, but never quite so straightforwardly as in his most recent novels Damascus Gate and Bay of Souls.

Where Damascus Gate explored three traditional religions (Islam, Judaism, Christianity) in their apocalyptic forms, in Bay of Souls Stone turns to a fascination with the primitive, experiential voodoo chronicled by Maya Deren in “Divine Horseman” and inspired by personal observation while accompanying Madison Smartt Bell on his spiritual quest in Haiti.

Gallup finds that 82% of Ame3ricans are on spiritual journey and 51% have talked about it in the previous 24 hours. While Stone’s tale takes us far afield from traditional spiritual searching, it is probably a more accurate portrayal of what is behind Gallup’s findings, then the more traditional spiritual search many evangelicals, may visualize. The quest is, however conducted against very real questions that arise from Stone’s Catholic upbringing. It is clear he is wrestling with the apparent absence of God, the notions of providence without God and the emptiness of randomness that replaces a personal providential God.

Beliefs num
–There is no personal providential God. Only randomness.
–Man’s life seems empty when the lack of God becomes the operating hypothesis.
–People will try to fill that emptiness with something.
–Sexual or hyper-primitive religious experiences are two ways to fill the void.
–In the end, all is vanity and taking the risks of coloring outside the lines, may leave one alone.

Questions Worth Discussing num
–Do you believe there is a God personally involved in the universe?
–Is your destiny shaped by a providential God or by chance?
–What happens to a person who turns from religious faith and a belief in providential destiny to belief in random chance?

Provocative Quotes byline
–Much snow is falling, winds roar hollowly,The owl hoots from the elder,Fear in your heart cries to the loving-cup:Sorrow to sorrow as the sparks fly upward. The log groans and confesses: There is one story and one story only.
==Robert Graves poem as Stone’s epigraph.
–Michael had come armed into the woods for the customary reason, to simplify life, to assume an ac=ancient uncomplicated identity. But the thoughts that surfaced in his silence were not comforting. The image of himself, for instance, as an agent of providence.
–I believe he thought. 10:47 AM. If I believe. But faith is not what you believe he thought. Faith was something else.
–Michael had been afraid, for a while, that something was out there, at the beginning and end of consciousness. An alpha and an omega to things. He had believed it for years off and on¢â‚¬¦But now his son’s life was saved. And the great things had come out of nothing, of absolutely nothing, out of a kaleidoscope, out of a Cracker Jack box¢â‚¬¦good old random singularity.
–A man without a meaning was a paltry thing, and increasingly, since the day of the deer hunt, he had seen himself revealed as one.
–He had been to touch the great death, and found out that, after all, it was but the great death.
==Stephen Crane.
–And we glow as one made new deathly renewed,
–The questions are childish, aren’t they? The mysteries, the stories are for children.
–Faulknerian intensity and a narrative economy reminiscent of Hemingway.
==Kirkus Review
–Matters of faith, possessing it, losing it, have always attracted me. Here I wanted to follow the condition of a character who, in an irony, loses the faith he has stubbornly maintained all his life and goes into a state of spiritual darkness. He is drawn into a passionate love affair in which he finds a physical and psychological gratification he has never known. He also finds himself in a life utterly different from the one he has lived.
==Stone in HM interview.
–In writing BAY OF SOULS, I was very aware of Michael’s interest in American literary vitalism, in the ideas of redemption through struggle, the match of love and death, the cleansing force of battle and the intensification of life through risk. He finds this in writers as different in their subjects as Kate Chopin and Jack London, Stephen Crane and Hemingway.
==Stone in HM interview.
–Religion and humankind’s spiritual need have always been my primary area of inquiry. Within one century the world has seen traditional religion fail, to be replaced by “rationalist” ideologies that often proved more weird and sinister than the most arcane supernaturalism. Now we have religion back, with millions of people ready to accept it.
==Stone in HM interview.

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