Bay of Souls by Robert Stone
My rating: 2 of 5 stars
"The whole world of otherness was waiting for him there [...] It was no place for him." That's what Robert Stone writes about the protagonist of his novel "Bay of Souls" who visits a Caribbean island. Unfortunately, this "world of otherness" makes the novel no place for me. I am heavily allergic to possessions of souls by evil spirits, soul reclaiming rituals, and most of all, to Caribbean vodoun. Of course, many readers enjoy supernatural elements in literature; they will probably like the novel more than I did.
Michael Ahearn is an English professor at a mid-Western university. He lives a relatively happy if boring life with his wife and son. A beautiful and mysterious Caribbean-born Lara joins the faculty. Michael becomes totally infatuated with her and a frenzied love affair commences. When Lara asks Michael to accompany her to her native island of St. Trinity to participate in traditional rites on the occasion of memorial service for her brother, he readily agrees. The island is torn by political unrest, and corruption and drug smuggling are rampant. And then we have the whole thing with vodoun, rites, evil spirits and places where "untended souls await visitation, salvation, home." Gritting my teeth I managed to get through the St. Trinity episode (over 100 pages); enjoying only the passages on diving (no souls here, just the good old real life). Back in mid-West Michael faces the consequences of his transgression.
I really like the fragments of the novel that happen outside St. Trinity. There are some powerful and well-written scenes. The memorable wheelbarrow incident during the hunting trip and the post-St. Trinity passages show that Mr. Stone is an accomplished writer. I just wish there were no Lara in the novel. In a way the book reminds me of "Deer Hunter", the famous movie about Vietnam War. I vividly remember the magnificent pre-Vietnam and post-Vietnam sequences in the film. Nothing else.
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