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Death of the Black-Haired Girl

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<div> An illicit romance at one of America's most esteemed colleges leads to tragedy in Robert Stone's most compelling novel since the bestselling <i>Damascus Gate</i>. </div>

Customer Review Snapshot

2.7 out of 5 stars
7 total reviews
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Most helpful positive review
It's not Robert Stone's best book, and a bit closer to genre literature than his earlier work is, but "Death of the Black-Haired Girl" is still enjoyable, and still suggests that the author, while sticking with some familiar themes, is still willing to explore new territory. Stone is still fond of describing the psychic wreckage that failed social movements leave in their wake -- a couple of characters here participated in Latin American leftist movements -- and there are a couple of comfortably bourgeois characters here haunted by improbably difficult pasts that remind me of the married couple at the center of Stone's excellent "Outerbridge Reach." Still, "Girl" is Stone's attempt at a novel that incorporates America's post-9/11 and post-Occupy anxieties, and, while I'm not sure that he deals with this material wholly successfully, it's nice to see him move past Vietnam as a social frame of reference. The most successful aspect of this book is probably its characters, who seem fully formed and, critically, come off as eminently believable products of their own complex histories. Stone, as always, has a special feel for trauma's most persistent and enduring effects, and while a couple of his younger female protagonists reflect his longstanding fascination with charismatic, risk-taking women, not to mention his own past in the gutter press, his portrayals are often insightful and sympathetic. There's also, I think, in Stone's depiction of Catholic ritual and a quietly competent mental health professional, the suggestion that faith still might be a possibility, even in this, the most spiritually disordered of literary worlds. Stone's probably rather late in his career at this point, but it's heartening to know that he's still got a book or two in him. Recommended to his fans.

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An illicit romance at one of America's most esteemed colleges leads to tragedy in Robert Stone's most compelling novel since the bestselling Damascus Gate.
“Robert Stone is a vastly intelligent and entertaining writer, a divinely troubled holy terror ever in pursuit of an absconded God and His purported love. Stone’s superb work with its gallery of remarkable characters is further enhanced here by his repellently smug professor, Steve Brookman, and the black-haired girl’s hopelessly grieving father, Eddie Stack." — Joy Williams

In an elite college in a once-decaying New England city, Steven Brookman has come to a decision. A brilliant but careless professor, he has determined that for the sake of his marriage, and his soul, he must extract himself from his relationship with Maud Stack, his electrifying student, whose papers are always late and too long yet always incandescent. But Maud is a young woman whose passions are not easily contained or curtailed, and their union will quickly yield tragic and far-reaching consequences.

As in Robert Stone’s most acclaimed novels, here he conjures a complex moral universe where nothing is black and white, even if the characters—always complicated, always compelling—wish it were. The stakes of Brookman and Maud’s relationship prove higher than either one could have anticipated, pitting individuals against one another and against the institutions meant to protect them.

Death of the Black-Haired Girl is a powerful tale of infidelity, accountability, the allure of youth, the promise of absolution, and the notion that madness is everywhere, in plain sight.

Specifications

Publisher
HMH Books
Book Format
Hardcover
Original Languages
English
Number of Pages
288
Author
Robert Stone
ISBN-13
9780618386239
Publication Date
November, 2013
Assembled Product Dimensions (L x W x H)
8.25 x 5.50 x 0.93 Inches
ISBN-10
0618386238

Customer Reviews

5 stars
0
4 stars
2
3 stars
3
2 stars
0
1 star
2
Most helpful positive review
2 customers found this helpful
Its not Robert Stone...
It's not Robert Stone's best book, and a bit closer to genre literature than his earlier work is, but "Death of the Black-Haired Girl" is still enjoyable, and still suggests that the author, while sticking with some familiar themes, is still willing to explore new territory. Stone is still fond of describing the psychic wreckage that failed social movements leave in their wake -- a couple of characters here participated in Latin American leftist movements -- and there are a couple of comfortably bourgeois characters here haunted by improbably difficult pasts that remind me of the married couple at the center of Stone's excellent "Outerbridge Reach." Still, "Girl" is Stone's attempt at a novel that incorporates America's post-9/11 and post-Occupy anxieties, and, while I'm not sure that he deals with this material wholly successfully, it's nice to see him move past Vietnam as a social frame of reference. The most successful aspect of this book is probably its characters, who seem fully formed and, critically, come off as eminently believable products of their own complex histories. Stone, as always, has a special feel for trauma's most persistent and enduring effects, and while a couple of his younger female protagonists reflect his longstanding fascination with charismatic, risk-taking women, not to mention his own past in the gutter press, his portrayals are often insightful and sympathetic. There's also, I think, in Stone's depiction of Catholic ritual and a quietly competent mental health professional, the suggestion that faith still might be a possibility, even in this, the most spiritually disordered of literary worlds. Stone's probably rather late in his career at this point, but it's heartening to know that he's still got a book or two in him. Recommended to his fans.
Most helpful negative review
1 customers found this helpful
Maud Stack is a beauti...
Maud Stack is a beautiful, vivacious, intelligent, and careless student. Professor Steven Brookman is a handsome, Hemingway-masculine, intelligent, and careless instructor. Of course, we know what this means. It's not long before office hours become after hours, and the classroom becomes the bedroom. In terms of plot, there's nothing new or shocking in Death of the Black-Haired Girl. Professor Brookman is, of course, a very married man who, despite his occasional sexual liaison, is very much in love with his wife, who has recently discovered she is pregnant with their second child. Taking a personal vow to be a better husband and a better father, Brookman decides to end his relationship with Maud, but hell hath no fury like an undergraduate scorned. It's not long before Maud spirals out of control, leading to her eventual death under questionable circumstances in front of the Brookman home. Despite seeming like the setup for a by-the-numbers whodunit,Death of the Black-Haired Girl is anything but. For those familiar with Stone's writing, this shouldn't be a shock and many of the negative reviews I've read come from readers who felt misled. I can't say that I blame them. With a title that conjures The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo and blurbs and summaries that throw around words like "thriller" and "noir," it does seem to project the wrong image. However, I read and enjoyed Stone's Dog Soldiers, so I was eager to enter into Stone's morally-nebulous universe. That enthusiasm did not last very long. Stone uses the aftermath of Maud's death to explore morality in both specific and broad terms. The novel's setting is a prestigious liberal arts college in New England, an academic institution whose motto, Lux in Umbras Procedet, or Light Will Go Forth Into Shadows, hearkens to a vainglorious past, its original mission to bring civilization and God's light to the wilderness. Ironically, in its 21st century manifestation, it has become the place that creates shadows, a place of locks and barriers--no longer seeking to interact with the world, it seems to insulate itself from it. In its attempt to protect itself from outside influence, it's evident that its insular nature is destroying it from within. It is a gray, dismal wasteland populated by the selfish and the insane. As Maud quotes Mephistopheles from Doctor Faustus as saying of the world, "Why this is hell . . . nor am I out of it" (15). After Maud writes a scathing indictment (although, from my perspective, a clumsy, rambling and ridiculously written diatribe that I cannot imagine anyone finding persuasive or brilliant) of the hypocrisy of Christian right-to-lifers that is published in the school newspaper, the college becomes a literal battleground between the secular and the sacred as hundreds of protesters flock to the campus and some go so far as to physically threaten Maud. Many of the characters here seem to be in hell: Maud; her father, Eddie; the school counselor, Jo Carr; and Steve Brookman carry and create their own personal demons. There are also lesser angels presented in the form of the dean's wife, Mary Pick, whose tragic past in Ireland seems to have only strengthened her faith, and Ellie Brookman, who routinely leaves the college to return to the Garden-like existence offered by her Mennonite community in Canada. A woman of deep faith who believes her life to be firmly in the hands of God, Ellie serves as the embodiment of the platonic ideal for Brookman: a constant presence reminding him to do better and be better in light of his past. Discovering her pregnancy months after leaving their home to return to the fold of her family seems to remove her from the sordid sexual escapades at the college, making her pregnancy seem almost immaculate and her presence in Brookman's life divine. So, yes, there's a lot going on here in terms of spirituality, repeatedly dancing at the edge of existential angst and then pulling back again. There's a lot going on in terms of abortion, Christian fundamentalism/radicalism, adultery, marriage, and temptation. There's some beautiful writing (the scene depicting the reaction of Maud's father, Eddie, after he learns of her death is heart-wrenching). So what's the problem? Remember how I said Maud's editorial rant was rambling and clumsy? Ultimately, that's how I felt about the structure of the novel. The story isn't really about Maud's death at all, but splinters off into a dozen different directions, following secondary characters in such a hurried, abrupt way that the reader never finds resolution on any front. It's like Maud's death is a bare Christmas tree from which Stone hangs every vituperative, cynical, and nihilistic bauble he can find. But then he stands back and thinks something is missing. So out come the garlands of devotion and piety as a counterweight. But still, it's not quite right. Maybe some twinkling obvious symbolism lights? The plot becomes so weighted under these conflicting and ponderous messages that I just lost interest. But the real death knell? The host of unlikable characters. Now, don't get me wrong--I'm not suggesting they should be likable in the sense that they should be good (in fact, it is the intended saints in the novel that I find particularly obnoxious), but there should be something about them that I still find appealing. Not so here. Part of my complaint comes from the fact that the novel does far more telling than showing, so many of the characters seem two-dimensional. It doesn't help that these are self-centered, pretentious, beautiful people who are careless with the lives of others. Surprisingly, the only sympathetic character is the one I thought I would loathe the most: Steve Brookman. Despite everything, there's the sense that he did love Maud in some way that went beyond lust. He doesn't come across as a lecherous Humbert Humbert in that what he loved and celebrated in Maud had as much to do with her intellect and her potential as her youth and beauty. In the end, I can only state that Death of the Dark-Haired Girl ultimately seems tedious and unnecessary despite its grander aspirations.
Most helpful positive review
2 customers found this helpful
Its not Robert Stone...
It's not Robert Stone's best book, and a bit closer to genre literature than his earlier work is, but "Death of the Black-Haired Girl" is still enjoyable, and still suggests that the author, while sticking with some familiar themes, is still willing to explore new territory. Stone is still fond of describing the psychic wreckage that failed social movements leave in their wake -- a couple of characters here participated in Latin American leftist movements -- and there are a couple of comfortably bourgeois characters here haunted by improbably difficult pasts that remind me of the married couple at the center of Stone's excellent "Outerbridge Reach." Still, "Girl" is Stone's attempt at a novel that incorporates America's post-9/11 and post-Occupy anxieties, and, while I'm not sure that he deals with this material wholly successfully, it's nice to see him move past Vietnam as a social frame of reference. The most successful aspect of this book is probably its characters, who seem fully formed and, critically, come off as eminently believable products of their own complex histories. Stone, as always, has a special feel for trauma's most persistent and enduring effects, and while a couple of his younger female protagonists reflect his longstanding fascination with charismatic, risk-taking women, not to mention his own past in the gutter press, his portrayals are often insightful and sympathetic. There's also, I think, in Stone's depiction of Catholic ritual and a quietly competent mental health professional, the suggestion that faith still might be a possibility, even in this, the most spiritually disordered of literary worlds. Stone's probably rather late in his career at this point, but it's heartening to know that he's still got a book or two in him. Recommended to his fans.
Most helpful negative review
1 customers found this helpful
Maud Stack is a beauti...
Maud Stack is a beautiful, vivacious, intelligent, and careless student. Professor Steven Brookman is a handsome, Hemingway-masculine, intelligent, and careless instructor. Of course, we know what this means. It's not long before office hours become after hours, and the classroom becomes the bedroom. In terms of plot, there's nothing new or shocking in Death of the Black-Haired Girl. Professor Brookman is, of course, a very married man who, despite his occasional sexual liaison, is very much in love with his wife, who has recently discovered she is pregnant with their second child. Taking a personal vow to be a better husband and a better father, Brookman decides to end his relationship with Maud, but hell hath no fury like an undergraduate scorned. It's not long before Maud spirals out of control, leading to her eventual death under questionable circumstances in front of the Brookman home. Despite seeming like the setup for a by-the-numbers whodunit,Death of the Black-Haired Girl is anything but. For those familiar with Stone's writing, this shouldn't be a shock and many of the negative reviews I've read come from readers who felt misled. I can't say that I blame them. With a title that conjures The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo and blurbs and summaries that throw around words like "thriller" and "noir," it does seem to project the wrong image. However, I read and enjoyed Stone's Dog Soldiers, so I was eager to enter into Stone's morally-nebulous universe. That enthusiasm did not last very long. Stone uses the aftermath of Maud's death to explore morality in both specific and broad terms. The novel's setting is a prestigious liberal arts college in New England, an academic institution whose motto, Lux in Umbras Procedet, or Light Will Go Forth Into Shadows, hearkens to a vainglorious past, its original mission to bring civilization and God's light to the wilderness. Ironically, in its 21st century manifestation, it has become the place that creates shadows, a place of locks and barriers--no longer seeking to interact with the world, it seems to insulate itself from it. In its attempt to protect itself from outside influence, it's evident that its insular nature is destroying it from within. It is a gray, dismal wasteland populated by the selfish and the insane. As Maud quotes Mephistopheles from Doctor Faustus as saying of the world, "Why this is hell . . . nor am I out of it" (15). After Maud writes a scathing indictment (although, from my perspective, a clumsy, rambling and ridiculously written diatribe that I cannot imagine anyone finding persuasive or brilliant) of the hypocrisy of Christian right-to-lifers that is published in the school newspaper, the college becomes a literal battleground between the secular and the sacred as hundreds of protesters flock to the campus and some go so far as to physically threaten Maud. Many of the characters here seem to be in hell: Maud; her father, Eddie; the school counselor, Jo Carr; and Steve Brookman carry and create their own personal demons. There are also lesser angels presented in the form of the dean's wife, Mary Pick, whose tragic past in Ireland seems to have only strengthened her faith, and Ellie Brookman, who routinely leaves the college to return to the Garden-like existence offered by her Mennonite community in Canada. A woman of deep faith who believes her life to be firmly in the hands of God, Ellie serves as the embodiment of the platonic ideal for Brookman: a constant presence reminding him to do better and be better in light of his past. Discovering her pregnancy months after leaving their home to return to the fold of her family seems to remove her from the sordid sexual escapades at the college, making her pregnancy seem almost immaculate and her presence in Brookman's life divine. So, yes, there's a lot going on here in terms of spirituality, repeatedly dancing at the edge of existential angst and then pulling back again. There's a lot going on in terms of abortion, Christian fundamentalism/radicalism, adultery, marriage, and temptation. There's some beautiful writing (the scene depicting the reaction of Maud's father, Eddie, after he learns of her death is heart-wrenching). So what's the problem? Remember how I said Maud's editorial rant was rambling and clumsy? Ultimately, that's how I felt about the structure of the novel. The story isn't really about Maud's death at all, but splinters off into a dozen different directions, following secondary characters in such a hurried, abrupt way that the reader never finds resolution on any front. It's like Maud's death is a bare Christmas tree from which Stone hangs every vituperative, cynical, and nihilistic bauble he can find. But then he stands back and thinks something is missing. So out come the garlands of devotion and piety as a counterweight. But still, it's not quite right. Maybe some twinkling obvious symbolism lights? The plot becomes so weighted under these conflicting and ponderous messages that I just lost interest. But the real death knell? The host of unlikable characters. Now, don't get me wrong--I'm not suggesting they should be likable in the sense that they should be good (in fact, it is the intended saints in the novel that I find particularly obnoxious), but there should be something about them that I still find appealing. Not so here. Part of my complaint comes from the fact that the novel does far more telling than showing, so many of the characters seem two-dimensional. It doesn't help that these are self-centered, pretentious, beautiful people who are careless with the lives of others. Surprisingly, the only sympathetic character is the one I thought I would loathe the most: Steve Brookman. Despite everything, there's the sense that he did love Maud in some way that went beyond lust. He doesn't come across as a lecherous Humbert Humbert in that what he loved and celebrated in Maud had as much to do with her intellect and her potential as her youth and beauty. In the end, I can only state that Death of the Dark-Haired Girl ultimately seems tedious and unnecessary despite its grander aspirations.
1-5 of 7 reviews

Its not Robert Stone...

It's not Robert Stone's best book, and a bit closer to genre literature than his earlier work is, but "Death of the Black-Haired Girl" is still enjoyable, and still suggests that the author, while sticking with some familiar themes, is still willing to explore new territory. Stone is still fond of describing the psychic wreckage that failed social movements leave in their wake -- a couple of characters here participated in Latin American leftist movements -- and there are a couple of comfortably bourgeois characters here haunted by improbably difficult pasts that remind me of the married couple at the center of Stone's excellent "Outerbridge Reach." Still, "Girl" is Stone's attempt at a novel that incorporates America's post-9/11 and post-Occupy anxieties, and, while I'm not sure that he deals with this material wholly successfully, it's nice to see him move past Vietnam as a social frame of reference. The most successful aspect of this book is probably its characters, who seem fully formed and, critically, come off as eminently believable products of their own complex histories. Stone, as always, has a special feel for trauma's most persistent and enduring effects, and while a couple of his younger female protagonists reflect his longstanding fascination with charismatic, risk-taking women, not to mention his own past in the gutter press, his portrayals are often insightful and sympathetic. There's also, I think, in Stone's depiction of Catholic ritual and a quietly competent mental health professional, the suggestion that faith still might be a possibility, even in this, the most spiritually disordered of literary worlds. Stone's probably rather late in his career at this point, but it's heartening to know that he's still got a book or two in him. Recommended to his fans.

Stones main themes ar...

Stone's main themes are religion/spiritualism and the consequences of moral failings. The novel presents a dark mood with multiple characters who make questionable decisions in their lives (e.g., Maud, Steven Brookman, Eddie Stack). Stone's tone is decidedly grim, with a few minor exceptions (e.g., Jo Carr, Ellie Brookman). The main characters are well-developed and the story has enough mystery to hold attention although the final solution to the mystery of Maud's death seems unsatisfying because of its randomness and lack of connection to the main plot threads, although this may be a statement about the role that chance can play in events.

I have read a couple o...

I have read a couple of Robert Stone novels previously and decided to read this because I thought it would have an interesting plot. Although the book moved along, I found overall it was hard to truly say it was a great book. The were too many characters that had way too much baggage for one novel. By the title , you knew what was going to happen and the final resolution of the plot was just so-so. I still need to read Dog Soldiers by Stone that won a national book award and of course I would try more his books in the future. If you like books that deal with professor/student affairs, Catholic/abortion and alcoholism, then try this book. It was quick read and basically ok. I do know that are lot of better books out there for those with limited time.

Interesting read, but ...

Interesting read, but not an earthshaking work of literature. With Robert Stone's reputation, I expected better. Simple, meandering plot and shallow characters. Contained some strange religious elements that didn't fit or go anywhere towards enhancing the story.

Not a bad read, just n...

Not a bad read, just not great. I didn't feel like I really knew any of the characters enough to care what happened to them.

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Electrode, Comp-389269083, DC-prod-cdc04, ENV-prod-a, PROF-PROD, VER-30.0.3, SHA-fe0221a6ef49da0ab2505dfeca6fe7a05293b900, CID-9ec29538-c9a-16e70d0a713dfc, Generated: Fri, 15 Nov 2019 20:45:53 GMT