In 1972 a college student named Mark Moskowitz read a review in the New York Times of a first novel called The Stones of Summer by one Dow Mossman. Intrigued, he bought a copy but found the novel difficult to get into and set it aside. Many years later he took another stab at it and not only finished it but concluded that it was a masterpiece, a defining novel for that generation which came of age in the late ’60s and early ’70s. Moskowitz searched for more prose by this Mossman guy and discovered not only that there was no more but that Stones had long gone out of print, generally ignored and long forgotten.
Mossman too seemed to have vanished. Moskowitz was determined to find him and to turn his search into a documentary film. This led to several encounters with various literary types (including Frank Conroy and Leslie Fiedler) and digressions on the topics of one-novel writers, books that change one life, and the mysterious workings of the publishing business. Moskowitz is a lousy detective, but that’s part of the film’s charm — its leisurely series of false leads drawing us deeper into the Mossman mystery.
The Stones of Summer will finally be republished this fall, which is a good thing, because the only sense of the book we get from the film is when someone compares it to Malcolm Lowery’s Under the Volcano, a dense and often hallucinogenic text. That might explain why none of Moskowitz’s friends manage to finish Stones once they’ve started.
Yet Mossman emerges as an almost heroic figure, somebody who got it down on paper, though at great personal cost.
This is a film that should appeal most to those afflicted by the love of books and the strange buying disease that accompanies it. Non-initiates who have never looked at somebody’s bulging collection and asked the eternally clueless question, “Have you read all of these?” should probably take a pass.
Showing at the Detroit Film Theatre (inside the DIA, 5200 Woodward Ave., Detroit), Friday through Sunday, Aug. 29-31. Call 313-833-3237. Opens Friday at the Madstone Theatre, Ann Arbor. Call 734-994-1000.
Richard C. Walls writes about film for Metro Times. E-mail [email protected].