Robert Stone: Novelist who explored the American dream and immersed himself in the Sixties counterculture


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Robert Stone was an award-winning novelist who told tales of seekers, frauds and other misbegotten American dreamers in such works as A Flag for Sunrise and Dog Soldiers.

A lifelong adventurer who in his 20s befriended Ken Kesey, Neal Cassidy and what he called “all those crazies” of the counterculture, Stone had a fateful affinity for outsiders, especially those who brought hard times on themselves.

Starting with his 1966 novel A Hall of Mirrors, Stone was a master of making art out of folly, whether the adulterous teacher in Death of the Black-Haired Girl, the fraudulent seafarer in Outerbridge Reach or the besieged journalist in Dog Soldiers, winner of the US National Book Award in 1974. Damascus Gate was another story of a wayward journalist, this time in the Middle East; he also wrote a memoir about his years with Kesey and friends, Prime Green: Remembering the Sixties.

Born in New York, he was abandoned at birth by his father and ended up in an orphanage when his mother was institutionalised. Desperate to break away, he dropped out of high school and joined the Navy at 17. By his mid-20s he was living in New Orleans and selling encyclopedias. He moved to the Bay Area, met Kesey and friends and, like so many of his peers in the 1960s, went out to “discover America”. Stone would begin sharing what he had seen and done with A Hall of Mirrors, a surreal tale of corruption, decadence and breakdown set in New Orleans.

“We were just going through this extraordinary experience,” he said in 2013. “I really found myself deep in the heart of America, however deep in the heart of America was possible. I had a lot to write about.”

Robert Stone, author: born 21 August 1937; died 10 January 2015.