This Stone Gathers Mossman

When Dow Mossman’s first novel, The Stones of Summer, came out to favorable reviews in 1972, the author was not alone in thinking it would ignite a blazing career. The book sold a mere 7,000 copies, though, making it a success only in the eyes of its cultists. Mossman’s angst about being the literary equivalent of a one-hit wonder created a writer’s block thirty years long and counting.

Among the book’s fans was filmmaker Mark Moskowitz, whose Stone Reader (this month’s Indy Showcase) dares to ask, “Whatever happened to Dow Mossman?” It’s not exactly a question that’s been on the lips of the masses, but Moskowitz’s heartfelt passion about the book — and for books in general — makes for a beautiful and oddly exciting piece of film.

Moskowitz didn’t take to the book right away. He bought it after reading a New York Times review that said Mossman offered “a whole ring of words fed by a torrential imagination,” but he didn’t read it until 1998. Then he was blown away. Between regular jobs directing political commercials (surely a kind of filmmaker purgatory), he doggedly pursued the mystery that was Dow Mossman.

Those who get caught up in the chase grow invested in Mossman’s whereabouts. Among the folks Moskowitz enlists are the original Times reviewer, Mossman’s literary agent, and the man from the Iowa Writers Workshop who served as Mossman’s mentor. Everyone is effusive in their praise of his book — yet nobody knows where he is. Then there’s the book jacket designer, who looks at his cover work from three decades ago and merely notes, “It looks familiar.”

As an author who wrote one powerful book and then disappeared from the publishing world’s radar, Mossman’s not in bad company. Moskowitz’s talking heads remind us that the category includes Ralph Ellison (The Invisible Man) and Margaret Mitchell (Gone With the Wind). One erudite spokesman adds J. D. Salinger to the list, saying, “He’s essentially a one-book writer.”

“After mining their adolescence, some writers have one book in them,” explains Mossman’s agent. “They’ve said all they can say.” Yet as chilly as he seems, he’s fairly moved when he hears what Mossman has been up to.

Moskowitz says the movie that people will see isn’t the movie he expected to make. “There’s a point in the film where I look exhilarated, but I was depressed,” he recalls. “I became more humbled and a better listener as I went along. Still, I figured that I’d find a sad story. I actually thought he’d be dead.”

He’s not, and Moskowitz and his film have awakened a kind of gentle giant. The Stones of Summer is soon to be reissued by Barnes & Noble (but will also be available to independent booksellers). “As he saw the movie with more and more audiences, he became fascinated with it,” Moskowitz says of Mossman. “I think he’s been stimulated by new people and the post-movie discussions. He’s finding like minds. And the value of a nonfiction film is always the debate and discussion after.”

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