Click here to read reviewer Luan Gaines' take on Death of the Black-Haired Girl.
Award-winning writer Robert Stone has constructed a psychological drama reminiscent of the old parable about the blind men and the elephant: each character thinks he or she has a lock on the truth, while each holds only a fragment.
The black-haired girl is college coed Maud Stack, rebellious daughter of a tough, cynical cop. As we meet her, she is embroiled in a steamy affair with one of her professors, Steven Brookman, who is trying to do the right thing after having done, as he fully realizes, the wrong thing. Determined to break it off with Maud, whom he describes as "angry in all directions," he sets into play a bizarre chain of consequences that whiplash throughout his family and community in ways he can't have predicted and doesn't fully realize. This is a story of how casual connections among people can mushroom out to affect events far beyond the original field.
Players include Maud's father, Eddie, drawn into the investigation of the murky circumstances of her death but troubled by his own failings; Brookman's wife, Ellie, pregnant and something of a saint; and college counselor Jo Carr, who is wrestling demons haunting her from a stint as a Catholic missionary in Latin America. A central "character" is the gritty working-class town with its blighted memories that surrounds the ivory tower of education that Maud and her friends are privileged to attend; they are youthfully, selfishly oblivious to the real lives of struggle and disgruntlement that breathe around them. When Maud, who writes for the campus newspaper, decides to brilliantly but poisonously pinpoint an anti-abortion rally, she sets loose the dogs of discord, increasing the potential number of suspects in her "accidental" death and deepening the inner monologue of the novel: is religion always "good"--and are political causes always tainted?
Stone has been able to weave the many lives affected by the rather disaffected Maud together with some classic themes picked out of a modern background: how personal vendetta can affect public protocol, how freedom of speech can morph into freedom to attack and wound, and how old sins will inevitably find their way back into the heart of the sinner.