Dog Soldiers (novel)
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First edition cover
|Media type||Print (hardcover & paperback)|
|LC Class||PS3569.T6 418|
|Preceded by||Hall Of Mirrors|
|Followed by||A Flag For Sunrise|
Dog Soldiers is a novel by Robert Stone, published by Houghton Mifflin in 1974. The story features American journalist John Converse, a Vietnam correspondent during the war, Merchant Marine sailor Ray Hicks, Converse's wife Marge, and their involvement in a heroin deal gone bad. It shared the 1975 U.S. National Book Award for Fiction with The Hair of Harold Roux by Thomas Williams (split award). and it was named by TIME magazine one of the 100 best English-language novels, 1923 to 2005.
Plot and Summary
Dog Soldiers deals with the fall of the counterculture in America, mistrust of authority figures, and the end of the optimism of the 1960s. Southern California (where the majority of the novel takes place) has moved on from the Summer of Love to post-Manson paranoia. Converse seeks inspiration for his next big play as a correspondent in Vietnam, but only finds the decline of morals in himself as well as the world. Symbolic of this moral corruption is his decision to traffic in heroin, which the 1960s counterculture never embraced as they did LSD.
Converse involves his friend Hicks in the smuggling deal. He offers to pay Hicks to hide the heroin on the Merchant Marine vessel he works on when it ships from Vietnam to California, and then to deliver the dope to Converse's wife in Los Angeles upon arrival. The novel's primary complication unfolds when Hicks arrives in California and realizes he is being followed. Unsure of whether Converse has been double-crossed by his suppliers or Converse has himself betrayed him, Hicks elects to go on the run, taking along with him Marge, who is addicted to prescription painkillers and who had agreed with Converse to do the deal. Hicks - a bit of a paranoid survivalist infatuated with Friedrich Nietzsche and martial arts with a bit of Zen Buddhism thrown in - proves a formidable escapist, and the novel's action follows Converse and his suppliers' extended pursuit of Hicks and Marge.
Marge would like to believe she has spent her youth as an advocate of freedom, both sexual and of speech, but inevitably discovers she is little more than an adulteress and a junkie. Antheil, their pursuer, may be interested in arresting them and getting the drugs off of the street, or killing them and keeping the swag for himself, but no one can tell for sure.
The initial chapters portray South Vietnam as a decadent pit of death, mismanagement, and cheap thrills—essentially it is doomed to self-implode. The next several chapters show a detailed view of Hicks' life; once an all-American Marine, he is now wandering among the ruins of urban decay, longshoremen's bars converted to titty bars, and stumbling across all manner of perverts in Southern California. The final chapters do spend some time fleshing out the "regulatory agent" Anthiel and his cohorts, but it is not clear until the end of the novel whether these are merely well-informed drug thieves or whether they are legitimately on the fringe of the law enforcement world.
We are also introduced to Dieter in the last few chapters of the book. Dieter is the German immigrant who stayed in the cliffs/desert where the wild parties and orgies of yesteryear are just ghostly memories. At one point he asks Hicks to stay, to somehow kickstart the feeling of the sixties all over again, and Hicks replies that it's over.
Stone acknowledges having borrowed heavily from his experiences among the Merry Prankster milieu led by novelist Ken Kesey, with whom Stone became acquainted while he was a student in the graduate creative writing workshops at Stanford University. The character of Ray Hicks is modeled specifically on Beat Generation icon and Merry Prankster Neal Cassady. Numerous details from the novel are based on Cassady and his exploits and the environs of Ken Kesey's home in La Honda, California, an informal commune depicted in the writings of Hunter S. Thompson, Tom Wolfe, and Allen Ginsberg (among others).
- "National Book Awards – 1975". National Book Foundation. Retrieved 2012-03-29.
(With essays by Jessica Hagedorn and others (five) from the Awards 60-year anniversary blog.)
- Sam Allard. "Thomas Williams' 'The Hair of Harold Roux' deserves a rousing readership". cleveland.com. Retrieved 2011-07-30.
- Grossman, Lev; Richard Lacayo (2005-10-16). "All-Time 100 Novels: The Complete List". Time.
- Stephenson, Gregory. Understanding Robert Stone. University of South Carolina Press, 2002. ISBN 1-57003-462-1
- Photos of the first edition of Dog Soldiers