Review: A Stone For Danny Fisher

I had no idea what to expect when I picked this up in audio from the library. I read a few of Harold Robbins’ more commercial, salacious novels from the late seventies, yet hadn’t thought of him in years. Part of the reason why I wanted to look at Robbins again concerned those books: One of the stories I’m planning for my Bliss House series will be set in the seventies and will have Robbins overtones. But this novel is an entirely different animal from his 1970s work. Published in 1952, this is 1950s cinéma vérité with a heavy dose of Robbins melodrama thrown in for good measure.
A Stone For Danny Fisher is a brutal coming-of-age story covering both The Great Depression and WWII eras. Danny Fisher is a sensitive, likable, blond Jewish boy who, when his family falls on hard times, discovers that he not only has a natural talent for fighting but also for the clever manipulation of everyone close to him. But Danny is too clever for his own good, and has a serious tragic flaw that always propels his happiness just out of his reach.
There were moments that I had to stop listening to this story because it became too intense, too real. As a late baby boomer, I had grandparents who struggled through the Depression, but they were reluctant (or unable) to communicate the true horror of it to me. Robbins made me want to immediately convert all my money to cash or gold and stuff it inside my mattress. Several reviewers compare it to The Jungle, but A Stone For Danny Fisher has a stylistic point of view that The Jungle–with its empahsis on social polemic–lacks. It’s much more than a period piece. It’s an endless roller coaster ride of jubilation, discontent, and despair. And I mean that in a good way.
Robbins could have easily trimmed this book by a good 100 pages. It feels relentless, sometimes exhausting. And the use of the second person at the beginning…well, I found it annoying. In fact the entire conceit of Danny making observations from beyond the grave is too heavy-handed for my taste. But even with its flaws, I recommend it highly for fans of good writing, noir fiction, and early 20th century NYC.

4 thoughts on “Review: A Stone For Danny Fisher”

  1. Keith Raffel says:

    Thanks for the memories, Laura. I do remember reading this one and 79 Park Avenue as a teenager (after reading The Carpetbaggers) when he still had literary pretensions. BTW, did you know that the Elvis Presley vehicle King Creole was loosely based on “Stone?”

  2. Hi, Keith. So glad you came by! When I was poking about for info about the book I came across references to King Creole. I have mixed feelings about watching it–though as it’s loosely based, maybe I won’t mind it so much. Presley was such an odd choice. I was trying to think of blonde actors who might have carried it off. Martin Milner? Robert Wagner? But it needed a big guy who wasn’t *too* pretty.

    Again, congratulations on your crazy-successful Kickstarter campaign for The Temple Mount. I love your work and look forward to getting a signed, in-person copy asap!!

  3. Keith Raffel says:

    Laura, Harold Robbins’s career makes one wonder which is more important — writing a “good” book or a blockbuster. Robbins eventually opted for the latter. So did James Patterson after his Edgar-winning debut, The Thomas Berryman Number, didn’t sell much. Which do you pick?

  4. I think it’s a kind of miracle that some writers have that choice to make. Many well-trained writers are under the mistaken impression that they can choose, that if they just pull back on their “literariness” they will magically become commercial and therefore successful. It’s one of the reasons that so many people disdain genre works. I would challenge any one of those folks to try it. There have been 2 recent examples (which I won’t specify) that have been less than brilliant successes because they aped a genre form without understanding that there’s a whole different kind of craft involved.

    That said, I’ve known some successful genre writers who assumed that being “literary” meant that they should overwrite. And that’s a helluva mess, too.

    It’s all about craft and engaging the reader–some writers can engage on more subliminal levels, others provide more obvious stimulations. God bless the writers who can do both.

    Now, I think I must find and read The Thomas Berryman Number.

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