Death of the Black-Haired Girl is a departure from what I think of as typical Robert Stone work. Usually his works are set in far flung locations and are distinctly political. His latest novel, however, is a campus novel. It is set at a small liberal arts college in New England. I don’t think I will ruin anything by saying that a black-haired female student dies during an altercation. Yet, Stone still brings his distinctive voice to what some may call a typical story. He deals with the politics of the situation on various levels by exploring the dead student’s political views on abortion, the role of sex and power in the academy and subtle but every present influence of religion in the lives of various players.
Generally, I love Stone’s books for their locations – Israel, Cuba, South America. The campus setting of Death of the Black-Haired Girl was unexpected, but as with all of his other locations, Stone very convincingly takes you there and makes it real. He also takes a rather typical campus plot line and turns it into something new. There was some nod to the thriller genre that his work can often slide into, but I think this novel remains firmly in the literary fiction genre.
Who would like this book? While fans of Robert Stone’s writing will still find much to appreciate in Death of the Black-Haired Girl, it is not a typical Robert Stone novel. It has not of that international intrigue and adventure. That being said, it is a very compelling read. I think that Stone often writes himself into his novels in some way. In this one I’m convinced he has cast himself as the dead girl’s father. The novel ends with his death from emphysema. Is Stone foreshadowing his own death (he has emphysema)? And will this be his last novel? Only time will tell, but I’d wager that anything else he writes will be similarly domestic.