Robert Stone Interview, plus links to author biography, book summaries, excerpts and reviews

Robert Stone
Photo: Greg Martin

Robert Stone

An interview with Robert Stone

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 Souls?
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.

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 its power.

Much of the novel feels like a fever dream. Is what we read imagined by Michael Ahearn?
From the moment Michael Ahearn loses his faith—perhaps from the moment he sees the strange figure of the enraged hunter in the silent forest—Michael’s 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 Michael’s state, events simply take shape; whether they’re imagined or real is one of his problems.

What got you interested in Voodoo?
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.

Unless otherwise stated, this interview was conducted at the time the book was first published, and is reproduced with permission of the publisher. This interview may not be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the copyright holder.

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