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Talking with Robert Stone

Robert Stone, respected author of seven critically acclaimed novels, sees audiobooks as a great way to start kids reading. “With contemporary readers,” he says, “I sometimes wonder if they have any sense of prose at all. It [audiobooks] might be a tool for teaching people how to read.” Fresh from a stint in the high school trenches, Stone offers, “You listen to a lot of speech of adolescents, and what they’re speaking is like ‘reinventing dialect.’ Standard speech collapses into shorthand of various kinds.” Stone believes “kids don’t know how to speak or express themselves.” He adds, “I really see it in the same way that a parent reading to you gets you reading. You could launch kids with the audio.”

Stone grew up listening to the radio and acknowledges, “That’s my formative, my narrative base.” After that, he says, “In structuring novels, I was influenced by Conrad . . . in terms of subject, but more in terms of how to write the book, how to put the elements of a novel together.” When he first heard about audiobooks in the ’70s, his reaction was, “I ought to read for these. I like to read, and I know how to read, and I know how ellipses work, and I know what meter is.” Stone regrets that he hasn’t recorded one of his books yet but doesn’t rule out the possibility for the future. “I read aloud and give readings. As the kid in Dickens says, ‘I do the voices,’ and I do the narrative, and I sort of act it out. I’m pretty physical. But,” he points out, “nobody’s ever asked me to do it.”

Although he’s not interested in escape reading, Stone finds listening relaxing. “I really am fascinated by what’s going on, and I don’t feel I can escape it. I’m very tense. Sometimes reading old history, old resolved questions, is relaxing.” He listens to audiobooks on long trips. Among his favorites are some Updike stories and a reading of LORD JIM that he especially enjoyed. He adds, “I didn’t realize I like E.B. White until I listened to somebody reading his essays while I was in the car. I liked them.”

Stone visited Haiti twice before writing his latest novel, BAY OF SOULS. The first time he got there he appreciated the “utter lawlessness of it. I tried to operate in this place where life isn’t worth much. I found it dangerous and exciting and deeply structured with the voodoo, and I was drawn to the unspoiled nature of pure voodoo.” On his second visit he witnessed a possession ceremony which very few outsiders have experienced.

About his new work, Stone says, “I’m still doing a lot of the same things. My characters are subject to this kind of hide-and-seek in terms of transcendent power that they seem to feel evidence of, but that seems to have absconded on them, and they try and replace it for each other. They try to come through for each other. It’s a world in which there seems to be something other than them, and yet they keep finding only themselves.”—S.J. Henschel

AUG/SEP 2003
© AudioFile 2003, Portland, Maine

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