An Interview with Robert Stone
Where did you get the idea for Bay Of Souls? What inspired you? How would
you describe Bay Of Souls?
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. On one of the Windward
islands, he also comes under the power of the afro-Caribbean syncretic religion
known in different places as santeria, voudon, or candomble. Giving way to his
feelings for Lara Purcell, he is forced to make his way through a spiritual
maze, accepting as he resists this sophisticated and powerful religious
structure of vaudon. He has always been drawn to danger and risk although it has
been largely absent from his life. With Lara Purcell in St. Trinity, he finds it
all. In Bay Of Souls Michael Ahearn undergoes a violent pilgrimage that
is also a test of his ability to love and to accept life. He is overwhelmed by
the pleasures, the confusions and terrors of the world he has entered.
Lara Purcell claims that her soul is possessed and Michael in turn seems
to be possessed by her. How do you think that possession and love are connected?
Lara believes herself bound to the fearsome voudon personality known as "Marinette."
One of the things she hopes for in Michael is a spiritual liberation. At the
same time, Michael feels possessed by Lara. Both of them are bound by the desire
for mutual possession all lovers feel and for them it has a spiritual dimension.
This dimension is not one of peace and pietism. It is protean and demanding.
Professor Michael Ahearn designs a course consisting of works from early
twentieth century vitalism. Did these works influence you when writing Bay Of
In writing Bay Of Souls, I was very aware of Michaels 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.
The political climate of St. Trinity evokes recent Caribbean history. Did you
base the novel on any specific place? Years ago I had the opportunity to visit
the santeria shrine at Barracoa in Cuba with a practitioner who was ready to
explicate the beliefs behind African religion. Later, in Haiti, I stood outside
a hounfor, a vaudon sanctuary, while some friends attended a celebration. I came
to realize that this was a faith that had literally sustained millions of
people, enabled them to survive the terrible trials of New World slavery. I felt
Much of the novel feels like a fever dream. Is what we read imagined by
From the moment Michael Ahearn loses his faithperhaps from the moment he
sees the strange figure of the enraged hunter in the silent forestMichaels
perceptions are conditioned by a spiritual and psychological vertigo. He is, in
a way, in an altered state, soul-sick, prey to illusion. He cannot trust the
absolute reality of some of the things he sees, or the places in which he
discovers himself. This is a variation on the realist mode which I have used
before in A Hall Of Mirrors, in Children Of Light, as well as
in some of my short stories. I want to suggest that what we see around us is not
definitive of things as they are. In Michaels state, events simply take
shape; whether theyre imagined or real is one of his problems.
What got you interested in Voodoo?
Religion and humankinds 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.