Bear and His Daughter

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The stories collected in Bear and His Daughter span nearly thirty years - 1969 to the present - and they explore, acutely and powerfully, the humanity that unites us. In "Miserere," a widowed librarian with an unspeakable secret undertakes an unusual and grisly role in the anti-abortion crusade. "Under the Pitons" is the harrowing story of a reluctant participant in a drug-running scheme and the grim and unexpected consequences of his involvement. The title story is a riveting account of the tangled lines that ...

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The stories collected in Bear and His Daughter span nearly thirty years - 1969 to the present - and they explore, acutely and powerfully, the humanity that unites us. In "Miserere," a widowed librarian with an unspeakable secret undertakes an unusual and grisly role in the anti-abortion crusade. "Under the Pitons" is the harrowing story of a reluctant participant in a drug-running scheme and the grim and unexpected consequences of his involvement. The title story is a riveting account of the tangled lines that weave together the relationship of a father and his grown daughter.

The award-winning author of Dog Soldiers, A Flag for Sunrise, and Outerbridge Reach presents stories that "combine action and philosophical rumination with a deftness matching Graham Greene's" (Saturday Review). Written between 1969 and the present, they explore, as powerfully and accurately as his novels, our common troubled condition and the humanity that unites us.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"Masterful and wrenching." Boston Globe

"A volume of short stories that belongs alongside those of Raymond Carver . . . Brilliant, moving, often gloriously funny and triumphant." The San Francisco Chronicle

"As interesting a group of stories as can be found in contempory literature." The Miami Herald

Jennifer Howard

Booze hounds and dope heads, trippers and pill poppers: Just about everybody in these seven hypnotic stories is getting over or giving in to a serious case of substance abuse. It's like the '60s all over again, except that every trip is a bad trip, and the flower children aren't trying to raise consciousness, they're trying to drown it out. "There are times when I don't think I will ever be dead enough -- or dead long enough -- to get the taste of this life off my teeth," says Elliott in "Helping," trying to explain to his wife why he's fallen off the wagon after 18 sober months. A social worker, Elliott has been driven back to drink by a client whose dream about wartime Vietnam -- which the client never experienced -- uncannily recalls Elliott's own nightmarish service there, under "a sky that was black, filled with smoke-swollen clouds, lit with fires, damped with blood and rain."

Best known as a novelist (Dog Soldiers, Outerbridge Reach), Stone brings a deceptive lyricism and a knack for emotional complexity to these shorter pieces. He doesn't condemn his addicts; neither does he sentimentalize them. Taking a shot at a bird, Elliott misses: "he was glad he missed. He wished no harm to any creature. Then he thought of himself wishing no harm to any creature and began to feel fond and sorry for himself ... Pissing and moaning, moaning and weeping, that was the nature of the drug." Elliott's relapse has a certain perceptive hopefulness to it; there's life beyond the bottom of the bottle. But things don't always turn out so well for Stone's people. In the title novella, drugs show their nastiest side when a poet and his daughter, who share a dangerous desire for poetry, alcohol and each other, have a reunion that gets murderously out of hand.

One of the best, most chilling stories in the book, "Under the Pitons," takes place on a boat bound for Martinique with a hold full of marijuana and cocaine. The pilot, Blessington, and his partner are amateurs at drug-running, and Blessington's trying to get both of them and their haul to safety. Doped up to stay awake, "his peripheral vision was flashing him little mongoose darts, shooting stars composed of random light. Off the north shore of St. Vincent, the winds were murder." And he's using alcohol to kill the fear and his memory of the deal, conducted with three sinister islanders: "It seemed to him no matter how much he drank he would never be drunk again. The three Vincentians had sobered him for life." The drug lords and narcotics agents he fears never materialize. The real enemy is already on board.

Sometimes Stone edges in and out of the shadow of addiction; sometimes he plunges a story straight into the heart of it. But it's not the drugs per se that interest him (in one story, "Mercy," there's no substance abuse at all -- but plenty of abuse of another kind). Liver-wrecking is incidental to these stories; it's the wreck of the soul that intrigues Stone, and he describes it time and again with complex grace and rationed brutality. -- Salon

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Vividly imagined scenes and some startling images convey brooding questions of existence in Stone's first short-story collection, which offers pieces written over a span of three decades. In each of these seven tales (all but the title story previously published), the main characters are absorbed in individual torments, frequently alcohol-fueled, yet all yearn to reach outside themselves to know their place in the universe. In "Miserere," a middle-aged librarian runs from her grief over the deaths of her husband and four children by embracing a cruel, misery-obsessed version of Catholicism. Taking illegally dumped aborted fetuses to Catholic priests to be blessed, she relives her loss again and again. In "Absence of Mercy," a man who grew up abused in a grim Catholic home grapples with the legacy of that injustice. "Porque No Tiene, Porque Le Falta" finds a hard-drinking, pot-smoking poet living in Mexico. He rides to the top of a volcano with two burnt-out old hippies only to escape and run down the mountain, desperate to recover a sense of perception. In the superb "Helping," a counselor in a Massachusetts state hospital slips back into an alcoholic wilderness when a client reminds him he hasn't really healed from his experiences in Vietnam. "Under the Pitons" presents characters who are literally lost at sea thanks to drugs. The protagonist of "Aquarius Obscured," a speed-crazed mother with a toddler in tow, has a hilariously horrible encounter with a fascist dolphin in an aquarium. Ending the collection is the long title story, which describes a hallucinatory tragedy that results when an alcoholic poet collides with his equally gifted but troubled daughter. Expressed in clean and lucid prose, these short fictions searingly capture the way private pain may become a prison from which a person can spend a lifetime trying to escape.
Library Journal
From the author of Outerbridge Reach: stories written over 30 years.
Kirkus Reviews
A vibrant first collection from the award-winning author of, most recently, Outerbridge Reach (1992) and other thoughtful and powerful novels.

The landscapes of drug addiction and war and its aftermath are depicted with rueful wit and furious intensity in these seven strongly imagined tales, written between 1969 and the present. Even in "Miserere," whose narrative premise (an embittered widow insists that aborted fetuses receive the church's blessing) strains credulity, Stone hooks us with sharp, convincing characterizations. His stories, like his novels, pulse with barely restrained tension: You feel his characters are about to explode. "Aquarius Obscured," an abrasively funny early piece, subjects its strung-out heroine to the "fascist" fulminations of a talking dolphin. Two other stories reveal the violent transformative consequences of drug-running operations, combining Hemingway-like vigor with Kafkaesque despair. The title novella, which traces the downward progression of an alcoholic poet reunited with the grown daughter who blames her own drinking and emotional problems on their longtime troubled relationship, moves with remarkable and implacable swiftness to a devastating climax; it's a compact Greek tragedy set in the Nevada mountains. "Helping" and "Absence of Mercy" trace with harrowing precision the sufferings of men shaped and trapped by the centrality of violence in their earlier lives, as it comes back to haunt them. Stone writes two kinds of scenes better than any other American novelist: summary descriptions of the whole shape and thrust of his characters' lives, and disturbingly visceral accounts of confrontations between his protagonists and their various demons. There are many such scenes here.

For dramatic immediacy and emotional power, Stone has few contemporary peers, and no superiors: altogether, an impressive debut collection that will further whet appetites eager for his next novel, expected later this year.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780395901342
  • Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
  • Publication date: 5/1/1998
  • Pages: 234
  • Sales rank: 674,198
  • Product dimensions: 5.50 (w) x 8.50 (h) x 0.53 (d)

Meet the Author

Robert Stone

ROBERT STONE is the acclaimed author of seven novels and two story collections, including Dog Soldiers, winner of the National Book Award, and Bear and His Daughter, a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. His memoir, Prime Green, was published in 2006.

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Table of Contents

Miserere 1
Absence of Mercy 15
Porque No Tiene, Porque Le Falta 47
Helping 81
Under the Pitons 117
Aquarius Obscured 151
Bear and His Daughter 171
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Interviews & Essays

On Wednesday, July 9, welcomed Robert Stone, author of BEAR AND HIS DAUGHTER.

Moderator: On July 9, 1997, the Live Events Auditorium welcomed novelist Robert Stone, who discussed BEAR AND HIS DAUGHTER, his collection of short stories spanning nearly 30 years of his career.

Jain from NYC: I read OUTERBRIDGE REACH several years back and loved it. I'm curious, do you have a boat of your own? If so, what's her name, and have you done many solo sails?

Robert Stone: I no longer have a boat. I owned a boat together with a friend of mine, and when he died, it was really more boat than I could take care of, so I sold it. I haven't had a boat in years. I have never sailed single-handed any distance. I used to crew for some friends of mine, and I've done a lot of blue-water sailing, but I've never sailed long distances by myself.

Ralph from Detroit: From what I know about your past, "Absence of Mercy" seems a bit autobiographical. The main character, Mackay, lives in New York City, has a schizophrenic mother, went into the military, etc. Would you care to comment on that? Do you often include autobiographical details in your writing? Thanks, Mr. Stone. I've enjoyed reading you for years.

Robert Stone: My thanks. I very rarely write autobiographical pieces. When I put myself or my experiences in fiction, I usually render them through a prism of fiction -- of deep fiction. But "Absence of Mercy" is an exception. It is one of the most -- probably the most directly autobiographical piece that I've ever done, and it's really very rare that I do that. That piece was in Harper's about five or six years ago.

Georgie from East Northport: Mr. Stone How do you feel about writing short stories as opposed to writing novels? What's the difference for you? Which do you prefer?

Robert Stone: I've always held the short story in awe. The novel gives a writer a degree of freedom that I like to take advantage of. The story is a completely different process -- I have thrown away a great many stories that I have considered unsuccessful. I think a story is like a pitch in baseball. It's a long, continuous, isolated process that begins with the windup and ends, if it's successful, with the thwock of the ball in the catcher's glove. A novel is completely different. It has incidental characters, subplots, foreshadowing. It's a world in a way. To work on a novel is in many ways the same as reading a novel -- you surrender to a world. But a short story is a process where the beginning is visible at the end and the end is constantly imminent at the beginning. It's a different process than a novel.

Claire from Sunset Blvd.: Who or what has been most influential in your writing career?

Robert Stone: It's hard to isolate one person or element. I think I was most influenced by the first generation of American modernists. That is, Hemingway and Fitzgerald and Steinbeck. Of course, my great masters of the past were the authors of the great 19th-century novels that I admiredThomas Hardy, Flaubert, especially Conrad. I think Conrad has been a very influential novelist in the English-speaking world. I think his influence goes on to the present day, and I think I learned a lot about structure -- how a novel should be put together -- from Conrad.

Katie from San Francisco: What is it about man versus nature you find so compelling?

Robert Stone: Well, it's an old and very basic story. And the old, basic stories are the best. Certainly if we're talking about people and the sea, this is a classic match that will probably never end. It goes back before the beginning of history and will go on as long as people go to sea. Then you have in the great sea stories all the elements of life itself reduced to an abstract, so that all the great sea stories are parables in a way. Some of them, like MOBY DICK, can be extremely complex and profound. So man against nature is a naturally compelling theme.

Eddy from Miami: Outside of the online world, what is your favorite bookstore?

Robert Stone: There are a number of bookstores that I am very fond of. Books and Books in Coral Gables is one of them. I like Elliot Bay in Seattle and Powells in Portland. Black Oak in Berkeley and RJ Julia in Madison, Connecticut. There are also two very fine bookstore in Oxford and Jackson, Mississippi.

Bared from Florida: I have read that you were part of the Merry Pranksters. Do you keep in touch with the old group or hear from them often? What about Ken Kesey -- do you and he share tricks of the trade?

Robert Stone: The answer to the first partYes, I do. I'm in touch with my old friends from that era. Many of the people on the bus are still people I see. I get to California usually once a year, and I see my old friends who still live there. Kesey is up in Oregon, and I haven't seen him for two or three years. We don't usually talk about writing when we are together. We talk about people and events.

Kate from Long Island: Hi, Robert. My question is, if you have been collecting these short stories for so long now, and your other works have been so well received, why have you waited to publish them until now? Have you published any short works before in other anthologies, or on their own, or in newsstand publications?

Robert Stone: Almost all those stories but one in BEAR have been published before. Some stories of mine have been anthologized. Three of them have been or will be in the BEST AMERICAN SHORT STORIES collection. I have one in the BEST AMERICAN SHORT STORIES anthologies of '70, '87, and '97. "Under the Pitons" was in Esquire and will be included in the '97 BEST AMERICAN SHORT STORIES anthology.

Eddie from Doral: Who, in your opinion, is the currently living heavyweight champion of literature?

Robert Stone: I don't think there is a heavyweight championship any longer. I think it's a little bit like boxing. Maybe we need a Don King in the literary world. There was a time when Norman Mailer said he was going to hit the longest ball in American letters. There were all these sport metaphors. I don't think anyone has the prestige of a Hemingway or a Thomas Mann or an André Gide. I don't think contemporary figures occupy so large a space. I think there are some excellent writers working, but I don't think we have a heavyweight champion at the moment.

Rory from Florida: Hi, Robert. I have three questions for you
  • 1) I am going to start writing a book of commentaries in the coming year (I am going into the eighth grade at the end of August, and I think December would be the perfect time to start writing if I get my commentary Web page up and running so I can practice). Anyway, when I start writing this book, do I think of what commentaries I want to write? Do some research? What should I do?
  • 2)How do you overcome writer's block?
  • 3)How much time do you spend writing each day?

Thanks a bunch!!!!!!

Robert Stone: You should pick half a dozen topics that you think are the most interesting and you have the most to say about. Take them one at a time, spend a lot of time thinking about it. The best thing is to start writing and to see where thoughts take you. As The Red King in ALICE AND WONDERLAND says, "Start at the beginning, go on to the end, and then stop." You learn to organize work by writing; you learn by doing it. You can't have it all mapped out beforehand. Write it down, and then organize it, especially if you are writing nonfiction.

With me it's always getting the work done. I don't run out of ideas, I just sometimes lack the energy and organization to get myself to sit down and work. I'm never blocked. There are just some times I don't feel like working. I've never felt as if there was something impeding me that I couldn't get around. I've always felt that I was goofing off when I wasn't writing.

Now I'm finishing a novel. I'm in the last week or so of it. I'm working more than eight hours a day. That includes wandering around, idly thumbing through the dictionary, and all sorts of strategies not to work. I'm normally good for about five hours, but I'm under deadline for the book to be published in the spring '98 list. I don't usually work this hard.

Bethany Chadwick from Amherst College, '96: I read a review of your work some time ago written by Professor Pritchard. How long ago did you teach at Amherst? What classes did you teach, and what literature genre did you cover? What was your favorite hangout in the Pioneer Valley -- was there anywhere special you would hole up and write?

Robert Stone: It's about a little over 20 years ago -- 22 or 23 years ago -- that I last taught there. My kids grew up in Amherst. I have fond memories of the area. I thought it had a wonderful English department, and it's an excellent school, and I still have a number of close friends on the faculty there. A number of my students there have published. Rand Cooper is one -- he's a novelist that was a student of mine. I taught a film class that Ken Burns, who was a Hampshire College student, took. I did mainly advanced writing workshops, but I also did a course that was called "The Literature of Alienation," and we read Beckett and a variety of writers of different periods. I also taught a film class. There was a bar called Checkers. It probably isn't there anymore. There was a place called Sheehan's in Northampton where I liked to hang out.

Eddy from Miami: I know DOG SOLDIERS was made into a movie (which I read you weren't too pleased with). With so much in Hollywood being remade and reused (sitcoms, sequels, remakes of good movies and not-so-good movies alike) is there interest to remake DOG SOLDIERS?

Robert Stone: Not that I'm aware of. Very rarely does that happen. They'll sometimes remake a film from a book that has been filmed, but I think it's very rare. In any case, I don't think there are any moves to remake it.

Mark Weiss from Westport, CT: Maybe I have read it into your work, but I get Hemingway tingles. You both explore the human condition with such candor and relate it in such expressive dialogue. Are you a fan of his work? If so, what are your favorites? His short fiction? And what other writers do you admire?

Robert Stone: I certainly was influenced by Hemingway. He is a master of dialogue. He taught us all how to use dialogue and the possibilities of dialogue. For sheer line-for-line excellence, A FAREWELL TO ARMS is my favorite. "Hills Like White Elephants" is also a marvelous story in my mind -- a tour de force. A MOVEABLE FEAST, which he wrote late in life, showed that he never really lost it. He lost his mind before he lost his ability to write.

Maxwell from New York City: I read a profile of you after the release of OUTERBRIDGE -- and I understand you love to travel. What are you favorite destinations, or types of holiday, and why?

Robert Stone: I've always really loved Southeast Asia. I love the experience -- the sense of the place. The incense, trees, the impact of that degree of change in culture. That's a place with an intense culture of its own. You feel that you are in a place of great complexity and mystery. I still get a childlike boost in a place that is so exotic to me. Increasingly I like being close to nature. I used to prefer cities and cafés, but as I get older, I find that I like being in the mountains or in the woods. I was always a city person, but I'm learning to enjoy the bush, as it were.

Mandy Divina from Hinsdale, IL: Reading over these stories, were there any that you thought you might like to develop into a novel? Do any of the characters in BEAR AND HIS DAUGHTER haunt you so much that you might return to them in the future?

Robert Stone: Many of them haunt me a great deal. I have never returned to a character yet. I wouldn't rule it out. If I were to return to one, it would be Elliot and his wife Ann in "Helping," but I have no immediate plans to do that.

Fred Larson from Towson, MD: Religion seems to be mentioned in every one of your stories in BEAR AND HIS DAUGHTER. Even the dolphin in "Aquarius Obscured" seems to be spouting a religious doctrine. I'm sure, like many of us, you could go on and on about religion. Are you a religious person? Do you still practice the Catholic faith?

Robert Stone: I don't practice. I think that my way of perceiving things, my way of approaching the world, is essentially religious. I think I have a kind of love/hate relationship to Christianity and Catholicism. At this time, I'm not practicing.

Tiger from AOL: The characters in BEAR AND HIS DAUGHTER all have unique quirks, ways of speaking, reactions, and feelings -- although they do tend to be druggies. But my question is not about drugs. It's about your characters. Do you base them on people you know? Are their quandaries based on real events? They never fail to become real to me, which is the reason I am a fan of your writing. Thank you.

Robert Stone: My thanks to you, Tiger. They do seem very real to me, too. I come to think of them as real. They are not life portraits. They are assembled from bits and pieces. Sometimes overheard laughter. Sometimes a gesture that I've seen somewhere. The characters really assemble out of their dialogue. Dialogue is really the principal vehicle of characterization, much more than description. If a character is working for me, I come to believe in them very much. They take on a quality of reality to me.

Rene from Georgetown: Do you spend time surfing the Web? If so, which are your favorite sites?

Robert Stone: I don't. I'm not even online at the moment. When I get this next book finished, I'll look into it. That is an unknown world to me, but I hope to make it part of my life in the future.

Nick from Burlington, VT: Hi, Bob! In the title story and in "Porque No Tiene, Porque Le Falta," characters are either made fun of or put in a pathetic light because they are writers. Is this self-referential? What do you feel about your profession?

Robert Stone: Well, I certainly am not ashamed of it. I really feel that writers perform a necessary service. But I do indulge in a degree of self-mockery, and I think, like many people, I like to poke fun at people who are in the same situation that I'm in as a writer. I do kid writers and the writing life because there is a degree of absurdity in it. Basically I take my job seriously.

Paul from Lansdale, PA: Hi, Robert. I read somewhere that OUTERBRIDGE REACH was based on a true story. Is that true? Which story?

Robert Stone: Yes. There was an incident in the 1967 Whitbread Cup Race, before the days of transponders, when an English entrant in the race decided to face his position. I remember reading that story and what happened to him with great fascination. I used that situation as the basis of the novel. It is based on an event that actually took place.

Megan from Williamsburg, VA: Hello, Mr. Stone. When is your next book coming out? Can you let us know what it will be about?

Robert Stone: It is set in Jerusalem in 1992 and it's about the city, the foreign press who worked there, and the various intrigues taking place around Jerusalem -- all the political and religious elements at play in the early '90s. DAMASCUS GATE will be the title.

Grace from San Antonio, TX: I hope this is not too personal, but what do you believe in? There seems to be very little hope in the lives of your characters. I adore reading your books, but afterwards I often find myself wondering if Robert Stone as a person is really that cynical. Thank you for taking the time to answer me online!

Robert Stone: I'm not cynical. There are things in life and in the world that I genuinely value and that I'm not cynical about. I believe in art and the way in which it helps us get through life, the way it edifies and provides insight. I believe in love. I believe in compassion and in tolerance. I'm not cynical about those things. I think that most people have a pretty tough time in life. I think many people are unhappy, and sometimes I wonder how most people -- myself included -- get by. But I'm not cynical.

Moderator: Thank you, Robert Stone, for joining us this evening here in the Live Events Auditorium. It appears you have some pretty dedicated fans out there! Best of luck with your next release and these last few weeks of hard work. We hope you might join us again.

Robert Stone: Well, thank you very much. God bless my dedicated fans. I couldn't do what I do without them. I hope they like the work that I am finishing. My love to them all, and thanks very much.

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