Reading Challenges

January 18, 2011

Pages from Cold Point & Other Short Stories by Paul Bowles

Aside from Bertolucci's film adaptation of The Sheltering Sky, Paul Bowles and I have had little to do with each other up until now, which is my loss. Upon reading Pages From Cold Point, I'm certain we're going to become fast friends. For me, Bowles has been like one of those people you encounter in passing and although you're perfectly aware of said person--you know their name and felt some kind of momentary spark--somehow the occasion to meet up again just never fully materialized. I finally gave the author the attention he deserves in preparation for my upcoming trip to Morocco. One of America's most famous expats based in Tangier, Bowles inspired multiple generations of creative types and literati to explore Morocco: he played host to writers like Tennessee Williams and Gertrude Stein before the Beat Generation, followed by the hippies, waltzed through North Africa. He continued to receive  visitors, celebrity or not, in his Tangier apartment up until his death in 1999.

Pages from Cold Point is the title story in this anthology and the most striking of the collection. All of the works, however, are masterful in their lush descriptions of place and in establishing a foreboding atmosphere, an unease that remains just under the radar, not quite identifiable. In this vein, Bowles is less concerned with characters, but committed to the personification of environment and mood, particularly in nature: be it the desert, a sea-side cove or a hotel room. Most of the stories are centered on expatriates (but not always Americans) whose new environments abroad provide an escape, a small patch of Paradise, far from the reality of life as they knew it back home. Many of these locations are what were then French or British colonies, set during periods of unrest just prior to war or struggling independence movements. The resulting tensions of such conflicts are felt, but remain in the background while the main characters remain too distracted with their own personal agendas and unrealistic fancies to notice or to integrate within their new communities.

The days of colonialism may be behind us (on paper anyway), but Bowles' recurring themes of violence, multiple identities and culture clashes still hold their weight today. His writing style is as fresh as ever, and for me, Bowles is one of those authors you feel giddy about reading for the first time because it's just that good. I'm now looking forward to discovering his wife Jane's writing, an author whom Tennessee Williams called "one of the finest modern writers of fiction in any language".

Visit the authorized Paul Bowles website HERE for a wide selection of interviews, photographs, and more (includes information about Jane Bowles as well). 

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