Every so often, a novel comes along so electrically charged with atmosphere and eroticism that the reader has to consume it in small morsels, stopping from time to time to digest what has been read. Marguerite Duras' The Lover was one; Yasunari Kawabata's Snow Country was another. Robert Stone's latest, Bay of Souls, is such a novel. Professor Michael Ahearn teaches literature at a rural Midwestern college. His life is predictable, composed and about to change drastically. When called upon to share mentoring duties with a new faculty member, a dark-skinned beauty from the Caribbean, Ahearn becomes rather more smitten with her than might be considered prudent for a happily married man. Lara is seductive, edgy and perhaps a little bit unbalanced: she claims her soul has been taken hostage by a malevolent voodoo spirit. Ahearn's white-bread reserve proves no match for Lara's piquant Creole mŽlange, and the two quickly find themselves embroiled in a steamy affair. Meanwhile, things are heating up in Lara's home island of St. Trinity. A military coup is underway, and Lara is summoned home; Ahearn, obsessed, follows. Superstition and intrigue run rampant through the island. Soon Ahearn and Lara face duplicity and betrayal beyond the places their imaginations can carry them.

Robert Stone, well known for his best-selling Dog Soldiers and Damascus Gate, is no stranger to the novel of the Third World. Perhaps more than any other modern-day writer, he captures the machinations and corruption in developing nations. That said, the true story of Bay of Souls lies in the tormented relationship of Ahearn and Lara. When the senses become untrustworthy, when the questions far outnumber the answers, when the truth is found to be lies (to crib shamelessly from the Jefferson Airplane), only then is love put to its most onerous test. Thought-provoking and disquieting, Bay of Souls stays with the reader well after the last page is turned.

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