In this towering story about a man pitting himself against the sea, against society, and against himself, Robert Stone again demonstrates that he is "one of the most impressive novelists of his generation" (New York Review of Books). Inviting comparison with the great sea novels of Conrad, Melville, and Hemingway, Outerbridge Reach is also the portrait of two men and the powerful, unforgettable woman they both love - and for whom they are both ready, in their very different ways, to stake everything. As the San Francisco Chronicle said, "Robert Stone asks questions of our time few writers could imagine and answers them in narratives few readers will ever quite forget."
"Outerbridge Reach" itself has a lot to recommend it, though many of its themes will surely be familiar to Stone's readers. This time, Stone tackles the social and emotional fallout of the sixties from a different perspective, making Owen Browne, a conservative former Navy officer, his narrator. Suffering from financial trouble and emotional isolation, Browne decides to stake his life and financial fortunes on a solo round-the-world sailboat race with predictably disastrous, if unexpectedly bizarre, results. Stone, who is better known for creating louche, dangerously unprincipled characters like Ron Strickland, a filmmaker who chronicles Browne's adventure, writes Browne without condescension, making him both likable and flawed. As the story progresses and the plot enters the long, slow death spiral that seems characteristic of his novels, he mercilessly exposes the cracks in Browne's character, and it's riveting, if almost painful, to see Browne quail before both the elements and the impossibly high standards he has set for himself. The book's structure, which hinges on the dual conflicts of "man versus nature" and "man versus himself," might be familiar to readers who spend a lot of time at sea, as will the plot itself, which is a reworking of the Donald Crowhurst scandal of the mid-sixties. Still, it's thrilling to see both sides of this equation handled this well by a writer of Stone's caliber. The comparisons that Stone draws, between Browne's experience and that of his entire generation, or between the different kinds of toughness exhibited by the novel's characters, fit seamlessly with the book's seagoing plot. Among all this testosterone, Stone even manages to include Anne Browne, a complex, sympathetic female character who bridges the gap between Stone's two preferred character archetypes. The daughter of a wealthy shipping family, she begins the book a respectable WASPy woman of middle age but slips slowly and inexorably into alcohol and adultery as the novel progresses. For all his style and manly bravado, Stone's principal interest is human frailty. In "Outerbridge Reach," every character, and every sailing vessel, is stretched well past their breaking point and few emerge better for their experience. It's a compelling and impressive read, but sometimes so intense that it's likely to leave some of Stone's audience feeling tempest-tos't and thoroughly exhausted.