Lavish first collected edition of Bowles’s harsh, unsparing short fiction—published in conjunction with Ecco’s 30th anniversary: 62 elegantly wrought, compact nightmare visions, including the contents of classic earlier volumes, The Delicate Prey (1950) and The Time of Friendship (1967).
Bowles (1910–99) was the ultimate American expatriate writer (Robert Stone’s judicious introduction identifies him as “a cosmopolite who bridged the worlds of Gertrude Stein and Allen Ginsberg”): a longtime resident of Tangier, where he held court for numerous contemporaries and acolytes (many Beat Generation charter members among them), composed the music for which he’s also justly famous, and wrote pungent tales of Western values corrupted and consumed by the amoral appetite of impoverished, pre–literate Latin American and (especially) North African cultures. A limpid understated style and a gimlet eye for human weakness and folly are the hallmarks of such bleak fictional marvels as “The Delicate Prey” and “A Distant Episode” (in which the Moroccan desert seems itself a vengeful cannibalistic entity), a chillingly urbane account of the violation of an ultimate sexual taboo (“Pages from Cold Point”), a withering satire on misguided “civilizing” impulses (“Pastor Dowe at Tacaté”), and the troublingly enigmatic fablelike stories of Bowles’s highly interesting (if uneven) later (1981) collection, Midnight Mass. A few of the early stories are, arguably, apprentice work, and several written in the 1980s (notably “Hugh Harper”and “Dinner at Sir Nigel’s”) feel like scarcely dramatized retreads. On the other hand, don’t miss “Too Far from Home” (1993), another bitter black comedy about Western innocents adrift in the Sahara that conjures up images of both Bowles’s surpassingly strange marriage to neurasthenic novelist Jane Bowles (who predeceased him by decades) and the psychosexual labyrinth explored in his famous first novel, The Sheltering Sky.
Bowles was a great writer whom many readers may find hard to stomach (imagine a collaboration among Tennessee Williams, André Gide, and the Marquis de Sade). Those attuned to his hammer-blow rhetoric and nihilistic lyricism should find this generous volume just about irresistible.