The Spring of His Discontent

Prime Green

Remembering the Sixties

Robert Stone

Ecco, $25.95, 240 pp.

In Robert Stone’s 1986 novel, Children of Light, the heroine, a Hollywood actress, encounters a Mexican avant-garde painter who has sold some paintings to an American department store. Agonizing over his sellout, the artist confesses that he’s never “spoken the truth in English,” and wonders whether such a thing is even possible. “Oh yes,” the starlet wittily replies, “but very Protestant.” The gibe takes aim at an earnest American Protestantism that sees goodness radiating outward from national destiny. Stone once said in an interview, musing on the severity of the Catholic religion he was partly raised in: “Life is not supposed to be easy. Anything you get, you get the hard way. In some ways, Catholicism is very good training for making the best of a hard world.”

Coming at truth the hard way is one of the underlying themes of Prime Green: Remembering the Sixties, Stone’s first offering of nonfiction prose after seven novels and one collection of stories. At least five of these novels are first-rate, including the National Book Award-winning Dog Soldiers (1976) and Damascus Gate (1998), one of the best American novels of the 1990s. As a novelist, Stone has been celebrated-and sometimes maligned-for plots that proceed at a relentless tempo, rarely pausing for character development or novelistic musings. His memoir is a change of pace. Prime Green is a quieter book by far, and fans of the novels may need a...

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About the Author

R. Clifton Spargo, a fiction writer and critic, is the author most recently of Vigilant Memory: Emmanuel Levinas, the Holocaust, and the Unjust Death (Johns Hopkins). He teaches at Marquette University.