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Robert Stone on the Big American Pay Off

For the late, great novelist, American politics was one end-of-times after another.



STONE

What I’m always trying to do is define that process in American life that puts people in a state of anomie, of frustration. The national promise is so great that a tremendous bitterness is evoked by its elusiveness. That was Fitzgerald’s subject, and it’s mine. So many people go bonkers in this country—I mean, they’re doing all the right things and they’re still not getting off.

INTERVIEWER

Do you think those expectations will be changed by the economic fact that most Americans will probably live in somewhat more straitened circumstances for some years to come?

STONE

I’m not sure. I think even the poorest people, partly for purely commercial reasons, are still encouraged to think of themselves as candidates for participation in the big American payoff. And of course the nature of the payoff has changed—no more white picket fences. The mass media has taught everybody the glamour of crime. When you’re a crook, you’re on the side of the chaos; how can you lose? If you’re the guy that walks home from the felt factory after twenty years on the job and gets blown away by a freak on angel dust for the pay in your pockets, you’re a chump.


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