In search of a missing author
by Steven Gillis
Stone Reader is a compelling documentary of filmmaker Mark Moskowitz's passionate search for Dow Mossman, an author who effectively disappeared for thirty years after publishing his only novel, The Stones of Summer, in 1972.
Much like Mossman's novel, Stone Reader is a lyrical odyssey. The movie begins with Moskowitz on screen recounting his personal history with The Stones of Summer. Eighteen years old and living in suburban Philadelphia, Moskowitz bought the novel after coming across a New York Times review that described it as the seminal work of his generation. He admits he had trouble getting into it, but he kept it for years. "In nineteen ninety-eight I was going through an old stack of books and decided to give The Stones of Summer another try. This time when I sat down to read it, I was amazed at the absolute genius of Dow Mossman's work, and I immediately set out to find everything else Mossman had written." To his surprise, there was nothing to find.
The film follows Moskowitz as he digs up the few old news clips on Mossman and sets out to contact people who knew the author personally or had read his novel three decades before. Stone Reader evolves like a great mystery, with Moskowitz providing wonderful interviews with Mossman's old friends and teachers, and with early reviewers of The Stones of Summer. Moskowitz's meeting with the famed critic Leslie Fiedler is quite touching, as Fiedler speaks with equal passion and insight about books and the fate that has befallen Mossman. The film also includes an interview with Mossman's onetime agent, the legendary Carl Brandt, who is unable to explain how he managed to lose contact with a genius.
It is not giving too much away to say that eventually Moskowitz does find Dow Mossman, living in perfect irony in his family home in Sioux City, Iowa. The scenes that follow, in which Moskowitz and Mossman meet, are remarkably honest
without being at all melodramatic. Mossman is a soft-spoken man, naturally shy, and clearly taken aback by all the attention as Moskowitz gently prods him for the story of his life. Watching Moskowitz and Mossman sitting in the author's childhood bedroom, discussing and trading books with the enthusiasm of young boys swapping baseball cards, is truly magical.
Stone Reader is a wonderful achievement, a deserving winner of the 2002 Sundance Film Festival's Special Grand Jury Honor and Audience Award for Best Picture. It's at the Madstone Theaters for at least a week beginning Friday, August 29.
[Originally published in September, 2003.]