Saturday, September 12, 2009

Dog Soldiers by Robert Stone

Stone chronicles the depressing collapse of the sixties and the morally bankrupt characters in his novels always remind me of lost children wandering around the remains of a birthday party that ended hours ago because their parents never came to pick them up.

Dog Soldiers tells the tale of a heroin smuggling deal orchestrated by two former marines still living in Vietnam. They return to the US with more smack than is good for anyone, and they draw a collection of their former lovers and friends into the messy deal, which ends in ruin for almost everyone. This is all set in California, the canyons of LA, the mean streets of Oakland in about 1973. Peace and love have died, and only sex and drugs are left. There’s a sense of intense paranoia, as if everyone might be running a number of some kind. (And most people are.) Our characters are all awash in philosophies, from zen to… weirder stuff. But none of them are able to really pursue enlightenment of any kind, because they are all too drug addled.

Ultimately, this is Stone’s message in Dog Soldiers: That the movement(s) of the sixties got sidetracked, trying to take shortcuts, or becoming wrapped up in hedonism, and ended up missing the more high minded, spiritual targets they initially sought in the communes and San Francisco gatherings of the mid to late sixties. What remains is a sticky criminal residue of paranoia, psychosis, and social fragment. It’s a message we hear at the end of Easy Rider; (“We blew it.”) and hear echoed in A Scanner Darkly.

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