This collection of stories is the earliest one from Paul Bowles I could find. He was a renowned composer (friend and colleague of Aaron Copland for example) and just up and decided to write a handful of novels and a lot of stories.
These stories kind of take place all over the place, from North Africa to Mexico and Central America, as well as a few nameless places.
He, in a way, almost writes anti-Hemingway short stories. These aren’t the stories of masculine men revealing small insecurities but ultimately finding strength in their vulnerabilities. These are the stories of vulgarity on display. They’re not grotesque stories at all, in fact, many of them are kind of delicate. But this is a very strong collection. I think this collection works best that way, not as a grouping of individual stories. They are not tied together in any way other than a general ethos, but they’re clearly from a writer in a certain time/moment in his life as he’s casting his critical eye outward.
Perhap Bowles’s journeys across the world affected him or his affect caused him to journey, but he seems like one of those guys who couldn’t put down roots.
Here’s some samples:
From “a Distant Episode”
The September sunsets were at their reddest the week the professor decided to visit Ain Tadouirt, which is in the warm country. He came down out of the high, flat region in the evening by bus, with two small overnight bags full of maps, sun lotions and medicines. Ten years ago he had been in the village for three days; long enough, however, to establish a fairly firm friendship with a cafe-keeper, who had written him several times during the first year after his visit, if never since. “Hassan Ramani,” the Professor said over and over, as the bus bumped downward through ever warmer layers of air. Now facing the flaming sky in the west, and now facing the sharp mountains, the car followed the dusty trail down the canyons into air which began to smell of other things besides the endless ozone of the heights: orange blossoms, pepper, sun-baked excrement, burning olive oil, rotten fruit. He closed his eyes happily and lived for an instant in a purely olfactory world. The distant past returned — what part of it, he could not decide.
The chauffeur, whose seat the Professor shared, spoke to him without taking his eyes from the road. “Vous etes geologue?”
“A geologist? Ah, no! I’m a linguist.”
“There are no languages here. Only dialects.”
“Exactly. I’m making a survey of variations on Moghrebi.”
The chauffeur was scornful. “Keep on going south,” he said. “You’ll find some languages you never heard of before.”