AN INVISIBLE SPECTATOR: A Biography of Paul Bowles by Christopher Sawyer-Lauçanno
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AN INVISIBLE SPECTATOR: A Biography of Paul Bowles

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In tackling this first full-length biography of the composer/author Paul Bowles, Sawyer-Laucanno (Foreign Languages & Literatures/MIT) has taken on a difficult assignment. That he succeeds as well as he does is a tribute both to the thoroughness of his research and to the sensitivity with which he analyzes his findings. Bowles has almost from birth proved an enigma to those around him. From the evidence presented here, it is clear that neither his autocratic father nor his doting mother understood their reclusive, talented son. The young Bowles presented a facade of submissiveness behind which he did precisely what he wanted. Reading Sawyer-Laucanno's account of his early years, it is easy to see why the young boy baffled and infuriated his parents. When at 19 he took it into his head to sail off for the France of Stein, Cocteau, Gide, and Virgil Thomson, for example, he informed no one of his plans. His distraught parents, discovering him gone, soon had police of several countries searching for him. Bowles' decision to marry Jane Auer seems equally arbitrary. He was a homosexual, and his intended spouse was an independent-minded lesbian, already notorious in the bohemian world of Greenwich Village. Their marriage, while far from conventional and marked by almost continual strife, proved to be a source of strength and comfort for both. in depicting this aspect of Bowles' life, Sawyer-Laucanno displays remarkable understanding and explicates the emotional and artistic bonds that existed between Paul and Jane Bowles. Also impressive is the picture the author draws of the homosexual world's contributions to the arts during the middle years of this century. Among the personalities depicted are Aaron Copland, Mark Blitzstein, Gertrude Stein and Alice Toklas, William Burroughs, Jean Genet, and Allen Ginsberg: the author is especially effective in tracing the byzantine network of friendships and antipathies that existed within the group over the years. Sawyer-Laucanno is refreshingly straightforward in admitting that many of his subject's actions are inexplicable. Bowles was in many ways a mystery even to himself, and this gracious and splendidly organized work may be as close as readers will come to a definitive portrait for a very long time.

ISBN: 1-55584-116-3
Publisher: Weidenfeld & Nicolson/Trafalgar
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