THE STONES OF SUMMER

Dow Mossman, Author . Barnes & Noble $19.95 (608p) ISBN 978-0-7607-4884-8

After its 1972 publication, this sprawling, modernist Great American Novel–style epic garnered its author critical comparison to Faulkner, for its saga of rural dynastic decline; Salinger, for its mood of youthful alienation; and Joyce, for its labyrinthine, cryptically allusive, stream-of-consciousness renditions of the private psyche. The episodic coming-of-age narrative follows budding writer Dawes Williams from boyhood on his grandfather's greyhound ranch, through a feckless Iowa adolescence of drinking and joyriding, to a mentally unstable adulthood in which, through rants against propriety, positivism and the establishment and a terminal bout of countercultural dissoluteness in Mexico, he becomes the voice of the 1960s' lost generation. The real action, though, is the development of Dawes's writerly sensibility, his—i.e., the author's—knack for transmuting the dross of reality into the gold of literary metaphor. But Mossman's own lyrical, metaphorical sensibility tends toward pseudo-profundities ("[h]er body was an inward fall, a deep spiral of musky sea lying easily within itself"), abstractions ("[s]he had a metaphysical eye, as blue as perfect nightmares"), and a synesthetic scrambling of sensory categories ("[h]e felt he could not listen to the light anymore, that it stood off in the distance, wordless with impossible opinion"). Long out of print before this reissue, the novel has generated a cult following among those who find in its inchoate but intense imagery the very portrait of the young artist's soul. But many readers may find the book's hallucinatory prose—"In the beginning there was me, green smoke and oatmeal, conscious light, all looking for a shoe to rise from"—interesting but self-indulgent, and the plot insufficiently gripping. (Oct. 22)

Forecast: B&N CEO Steve Riggio secured the chain's right to reissue this epic for a healthy six figures in a deal that also helps finance distribution of the independent film about Mossman, Stone Reader. The Stones of Summer is an achievement, but at 600 dense pages, B&N may end up deciding it's better to stick to the classics.

Reviewed on: 10/27/2003
Release date: 10/01/2003
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Paperback - 586 pages - 978-1-58567-517-3
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