Death of the Black-Haired Girl - Robert Stone

Rating = 3.5 stars

"How learned and fine we believed ourselves to be! How shitty of the world to deal with us this way."

It's a story as old as academia. Adolescent co-ed falls for, and falls into bed with, her university professor. It doesn't matter if he's paunchy in plaid or sexy in silk shirts. She can't resist the allure of age and power and worldliness. But the guy's always married, with a kid or two and a career to protect. Relationship ends. Girl is left bereft by father figure. 

Did Maud Stack, the black-haired girl, have to die because of her affair with Professor Brookman? Or was it her substance abuse and emotional instability that doomed her? Did she have to die at all? Do any of us get what we have coming to us, according to our measure of responsibility for good and bad events? My guess would have to be that Bob Stone says no. Some play and others pay. 

This novel is more philosophical than the plot description might lead you to believe. Robert Stone stirs up a lot of serious questions without ever giving away his own stance on any of them. Is consenting adult sex between student and professor acceptable? How much responsibility does the professor bear for the consequences of such a relationship? Who has the higher moral ground on questions of abortion? At what point should confidentiality be breached to save someone from self-destructive behavior? What part, if any, should religion play in determining appropriate decisions and punishments?

All of these questions are raised, and left unanswered, in this story. And perhaps that was Bob Stone's intent, to present a bleak reality in which there are no right or wrong answers and people regularly suffer, disproportionately, for their own mistakes as well as for the sins of others.