4 out of 5: The stories in Robert Stone's newest collection, aptly titled Fun with Problems, run the gamut from west coast to east coast, from the drug-addled dregs of society to the troubled lives of dot-com millionaires. Stone's characters are equally at home listening to Mahler and alluding to Shakespeare as they are prone to drug-induced misbehavior and drunken rages. Lucy, the impulsive, self-destructive protagonist of "High Wire," one of the strongest stories in the collection, could be speaking for all of Stone's characters when she describes herself as "in difficulty."
Stone's style is unrelentingly raw and testosterone-pumped. While potentially off-putting to some, I found Stone's writing to be refreshingly different from the norm, if occasionally overindulgent. Some of Stone's meltdown scenes—and there are many of them—stretch credulity (would the Secretary of Defense really lose his mind over a disparaging comment?). But, for the most part, Stone powerfully portrays humanity at its nadir. Certainly, these are not uplifting or hopeful stories. Rather, they seek to shed light on our darkest instincts and desires, and, on this point, they succeed magnificently.