A Flag For Sunrise is Robert Stone’s third novel, the one he wrote after Dog Soldiers which I wrote about last month. It’s another complicated political novel in which everyone is drunk and haunted by Vietnam and the deep state lurks in its shadowy way just out of the frame. I agree with Michael Wood, who wrote in this contemporary review for the New York Times book section “I have a weakness for gangsters who refer to Nietzsche and gunrunners who quote Shakespeare, Yeats and Oscar Wilde, but other readers may not feel the same.” I found this one somewhat more literary than Dog Soldiers, deeper and broader and more moving, if less taut.
I’ve always been nervous around zealots, and I think Stone’s novels brilliantly characterize a kind of clash between those who think they know what’s what and those who are aware they don’t:
How could they? he wondered. How could they convince themselves that in this whirling tidal pool of existence, providence was sending them a message? Seeing visions, hearing voices, their eyes awash in their own juice—living on their own and borrowed hallucinations, banners, songs, kiddie art posters, phantom worship. The lines of bayonets, the marching rhythms, incense or torches, chanting, flights of doves—it was hypnosis. And they were the vampires. The world paid in blood for their articulate delusions, but it was all right because for a while they felt better. And presently they could put their consciences on automatic. They were beyond good and evil in five easy steps—it had to be O.K. because it was them after all. It was good old us, Those Who Are, Those Who See, the gang.