Damascus Gate

Robert Stone, Author Houghton Mifflin Co $26 (512p) ISBN 978-0-395-66569-5
From its sublime triumphs to its noble failures, Stone's first novel since Outerbridge Reach (1993) is a major work in every aspect, a sprawling, discordant prose symphony. In Jerusalem, which he depicts as a holy Bedlam, Stone finds the perfect setting for the spiritual agonies that have marked his most powerful writing. In that city, everyone suffers from the burden of faith, or lack of it, and everyone wants something, usually at any price. Expat American journalist Christopher Lucas wants a surer identity--born Christian and Jewish, he feels rooted to neither faith--as well as love and, of course, a good story. But his desire has limits, drawn by conscience, and so he serves well as the reader's proxy, a normal man surrounded by seekers of the absolute. Around Lucas swirl addled saints, addicted sinners, con men, cruel members of Hamas and even crueler Israeli security forces. All the parties have their own agendas, most of which hinge on a conspiracy among extremist Israeli Jews and American Christians to blow up the Temple Mount and usher in Armageddon. Stone's presentation of this narrative backbone can be mechanical and sometimes seems extraneous to the novel's main theme of the wages of faith. More captivating is an ancillary plot involving a drug-blasted seeker's attempts to elevate a manic-depressive Jew as a world savior; one of his pawns, Sonia Barnes, an American Sufi who's also Lucas's love interest, proves as compelling as any Stone heroine. Most extraordinary, though, is the author's passionate etching of landscapes both physical and spiritual. The book opens slowly, with a diffuse if portentous ramble through the city, though the narrative intensifies through scenes of terror and moral gravity--particularly in a nightmare Gaza strip inflamed by riot--until Jerusalem and its people coalesce to iridescent indelibility. Bold and bracing, ambitious and inspired, Damascus Gate is, even for its flaws, an astonishment. 100,000 first printing; $150,000 ad/promo. (May)
Reviewed on: 05/11/1998
Release date: 05/01/1998
Genre: Fiction
Paperback - 528 pages - 978-0-684-85911-8
Hardcover - 749 pages - 978-0-7862-1632-1
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