Children of Light
(1986), a novel by American author Robert Stone, follows screenwriter and cocaine addict Gordon Walker as he attempts to rekindle his relationship with Lu Anne Bourgeois, an actor who is battling her own demons as she plays a challenging role written for her by Walker. Stone’s fourth novel, Children of Light
was hailed as “the work of a formidably gifted writer” (Publishers’ Weekly
). The title refers to a Biblical verse, I Thessalonians: “Ye are all the children of the light, and the children of the day: we are not of the night, nor of darkness. Therefore let us not sleep, as do others; but let us watch and be sober.”
The novel opens in Hollywood, as Gordon Walker wakes to a ferocious hangover in the bedroom of a woman he doesn’t like. He throws up, steals some of his companion’s vodka and Valium, and snorts his first line of coke. Dark thoughts plague him: his wife has recently left him, taking his children with her, and his career is on the skids. His writing is so blocked that he has turned to acting, taking a role in a Seattle production of Shakespeare’s King Lear
. One line from the play haunts him: “‘He hath ever but slenderly known himself.’ For the first time in his articulate, thoroughly examined life, Walker wondered if that might not be true of him. Not possible, he decided. He knew himself well enough. It was the rest of things that gave him trouble.”
Walker decides he needs a dream if he is going to survive, “a little something to get by on.” He decides to travel down to Baja, where his former lover, the beautiful but troubled actor Lu Anne Bourgeois, is filming a movie. Walker wrote the screenplay ten years earlier, with Lu Anne in mind for the lead role. It is an adaptation of Kate Chopin’s 1899 novel, The Awakening
, about a woman who chafes against the limits imposed on 19th-century women, ultimately committing suicide.
On the way south, Walker spends the night with another old flame, Shelley (“a clamorous presence, never at rest. Even quiet, her reverie cast a shadow and her silences had three kinds of irony. She was a workout”) and an old friend, Quinn. A former stunt man, Quinn can be relied upon for an extensive drug stash, and Walker is hoping that something will help him reduce his cocaine consumption. However, Quinn doesn’t have anything: he has just buried a friend (welded into an oil drum) who overdosed on nitrous oxide. Quinn points Walker to Dr. Er Siriwai, former dealer to the stars, who gives Walker quaaludes and some advice: “You're going to see that schizophrenic poppet, eh? That little southern creature with the booby eyes? …Don't give her cocaine, Gordon…You want to see fair Heebiejeebieville, my lad, give one of them cocaine.”
Walker arrives at the film set, where the town of Grand Isle, Louisiana, has been reconstructed on a Mexican beach, complete with live oaks and Spanish moss. On the set, Walker meets the director, Walter Drogue Jr., who “thinks most people are wienies” and wants Walker to relinquish the movie’s writing credit to him.
Drogue Jr. is about to film a scene with Lu Anne, a scene close to the movie’s suicidal climax. Drogue makes no bones about his willingness to push Lu Anne’s sanity to the brink for a good scene: “Take care of it for me, kid…The old nothingness-and-grief routine.” Also on set is Drogue’s father, “one of the industry's living Buddhas. A director himself for almost fifty years, Drogue senior had been publicly caned, fired upon by sexual rivals, blacklisted, subpoenaed and biographied in French.” Drogue Sr. is here primarily because he wants to have sex with Lu Anne.
Lu Anne’s performance is powerful, and talking to her afterward, Walker learns that she has stopped taking her anti-psychotic medication: “I'm finding the drug very hard to work behind…I can't use my eyes.” However, without the medication, she knows she will eventually be overwhelmed by her personal demons, the “Long Friends”: “Never in her life had she seen the Long Friends so unafraid of sound or light, almost ready to join her in the greater world and make the two worlds one. Seeing them gathered around, shyly peering from between their lace-like wings, murmuring encouragement.”
Her husband, a psychiatrist, and their children have just left the set. Soon Lu Anne and Walker are sleeping together, and before long, Lu Anne has joined Walker on an epic cocaine binge. Her hallucinations worsen: on a cross in a local church she sees the corpse of a cat, “its fur turned to ash, its face burned away to show the grinning fanged teeth.”
Well aware of her collapsing sanity, the Drogues milk her mental state for their movie:
“'It's her cracking up.’
“‘For Christ's sake, Dad, don't you think I know that? It'll play just fine.’ …
“‘She has a way of being crazy,’ old Drogue said, ‘that photographs pretty well.’”
Meanwhile “old Drogue” contains to harass her sexually.
When Lu Anne finally cracks, it is in dramatic fashion. Walker, believing himself madly in love with her, chases her up a nearby mountainside in a storm. The two of them trade Shakespearean quotes as he tries to persuade her not to kill herself. Playing on her Catholic upbringing, he promises that she will be baptized, renewed, reborn—until she throws away what’s left of his cocaine stash: “Takes the edge off baptism, renewal and rebirth, doesn't it? When you're out of coke?” Lu Anne succeeds in killing herself, and Walker is left without his “dream,” and wondering what is left for him to live for.