On the Spenser series

Go East, Young Man

Robert B. Parker, Jesse Stone, and Spenser

By Reed Farrel Coleman

No! I am not Prince Hamlet, nor was meant to be . . .

–T.S. Eliot, “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock”

Much as Eliot’s Prufrock is not meant to be Hamlet, Robert B. Parker’s Jesse Stone is not meant to be Spenser. In a 2005 interview, Mr. Parker stated, “I invented Jesse Stone so I could try my hand at third-person narration, and a guy who was nowhere near as evolved as Spenser. Jesse has problems with alcohol and his ex-wife, Spenser is complete. Jesse is a work in progress. I also liked writing about a cop and small-town police force.”

Regardless of Parker’s intentions, the question remains: Is Jesse Stone simply a thinly disguised and stripped-down incarnation of Spenser? Or, like Prufrock and Hamlet, who both suffer from an inability to make decisions–Prufrock: Do I dare disturb the universe? Hamlet: To be or not to be–do Stone and Spenser share certain common features that render them only superficially similar? And, in spite of those similarities–some obvious, some less so–do they maintain their own integrity as distinct characters or, at a distance, do they blur together?

As the preceding quote from the late Parker indicates, Jesse Stone was, at least in part, more invention than inspiration; a sort of literary test bed for Parker’s experimentation with third-person narration. Aware of this, a reader might assume that Parker would not treat his writing of Stone with the same level of care and aplomb with which he approached his treasured Spenser, but  …

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