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The Stories of Paul Bowles

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4.27  ·  Rating Details ·  855 Ratings  ·  51 Reviews
The short fiction of American literary cult figure Paul Bowles is marked by a unique, delicately spare style, and a dark, rich, exotic mood, by turns chilling, ironic, and wry—possessing a symmetry between beauty and terror that is haunting and ultimately moral. In "Pastor Dowe at Tecaté," a Protestant missionary is sent to a faraway place where his God has no power. In "C ...more
Paperback, 688 pages
Published October 31st 2006 by Harper Perennial (first published October 2nd 2001)
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Community Reviews

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Abimelech Abimelech
Oct 02, 2013 Abimelech Abimelech rated it it was amazing
I came to this collection the way I recently came to reading The Sheltering Sky; years of occasional recommendation and rare instances of picking up a book by Paul or Jane Bowles, reading a passage, and putting it back.

A couple of years ago I arrived in San Francisco and every so often stayed on the floor of my friend's closet, which happened to hold no clothing but a section of his library. We had our enthusiasms and differences in literary taste. I found it hard to believe someone could actua
...more
Duffy Pratt
Mar 21, 2015 Duffy Pratt rated it really liked it
I read these over a long time, so almost none of the stories are fresh in my memory. Bowles writes beautifully. His stories, and attitude about human nature, make Conrad seem like an optimist. At their core, for Bowles, people are unknowable and terrifying. He illustrates this again and again by showing a lack of understanding between the natives of North Africa, and the visitors and expatriates who are mostly the subject of the stories. The stories can be funny, savage, and wise - sometimes all ...more
Andrew Kramcsak
Aug 06, 2007 Andrew Kramcsak rated it really liked it
There are some chilling stories in this tome. The man chased by a legless hairy creature with flipper arms set the tone for this book. But the stories are so short and the pattern shows up: person A goes to foreign land, settles in, nothing happens, nothing happens, nothing happens, oh my Sainted Peter what the hell just happened? I will never be able to explain this to my friends back in civilization what just happened (completely unexpected) for it could never occur there. Never, I tell you!
Greg
Sep 11, 2007 Greg rated it really liked it
I can't think of anyone who writes more strikingly than Bowles of The Self (often, but not always, a cultured Westerner) coming face-to-face with The Other. Other-ness, in Bowles's stories, functions like Nietzsche's void: When it is stared into by a protagonist, prodded or investigated or even ostensibly subjugated, it is always staring right back — waiting to infiltrate the protagonist, to explode him or her from the inside.

In his introduction to this edition of the collected stories, Robert S
...more
Terry
Feb 23, 2008 Terry rated it it was amazing
I love Paul Bowles! I've read almost every novel he's written. This huge volume has short stories galore and is pure Paul Bowles. The main reason I love him is because his stories usually don't end anywhere near the "and they lived happily ever after" end of the spectrum. His stories and protagonists are often dark and pretty unlikable, in that order. I love Paul Bowles!
Rupert
Apr 15, 2008 Rupert rated it it was amazing
One of my favorite all time books. Many of these stories are pure atmosphere, but it's atmosphere so thick you can climb in and move around in them. You can feel the creeping of time and the richness of air.
Larou
Paul Bowles is probably best known for his novel The Sheltering Sky, and likely more for the movie made from it rather than his book, but apparently (at least I seem to remember reading that somewhere and I’m too lazy to look it up) he himself considered his stories his superior effort, and it would of course not be the first time that “most popular” does not coincide with “best”. I cannot judge that claim that myself, not having read any of Paul Bowles’ novels (yet – but I hope to remedy that e ...more
Joe
Jun 21, 2012 Joe rated it it was amazing
"Too Far from Home," the title of one of Bowles' best stories, could be the title of this book. All his characters, in one way or another, stray cheerfully from their comfortable cocoons into territory that's strange and treacherous, though they never discover this until it's too late.You might think Bowles' overarching theme of creeping menace that ultimately does the protagonist in would become monotonous, but it never does. That's because each setting is fresh, each character different. Each ...more
Jamie
Jan 15, 2011 Jamie rated it really liked it
Shelves: short-stories
For some writers, praising the sentences of their work might have an undercurrent of exclusion: maybe it doesn’t add up to much more, so you praise it down at a lesser level. Let that be the disclaimer, I mean the opposite here.

God, these sentences. Each story is so good on a molecular level. It’s taken me forever to get through, because I keep leap-frogging back to read the ones I’ve already read. The atmosphere just gets in your bones, the way you can feel the weather. This is a book I’ll be r
...more
Angie
Apr 03, 2012 Angie rated it liked it
The writing is impeccable, clean and intelligent and thoughtful, but most of the stories are so dark that I found myself full of dread every time I'd pick it up. And I'm not easily deterred. Dark, not horrifying or scary - and, actually, often quite funny and wise. I read about 75%, and maybe someday I'll go back and finish them.
Lynne
Jul 10, 2007 Lynne rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: Sara Ray Beeman
Disturbing and satisfyingly unsatisfying. He builds a lot of dramatic tension, then resolves it - or doesn't - or sort of does - in unexpected ways. He explores and explodes the social mores of Europeans of his time (1920s-1950s). Warning: there are no happy endings in these stories - just less disastrous ones.
Casey Hampton
This collection of Paul Bowles (1910-1999) consists of sixty-two chronologically arranged short stories. This volume spans forty years of his work. Many of the stories are set in Morocco, where American writer Bowles lived.

Please don't let my 2-star rating dissuade you from reading this collection. But you should know that most of these stories are a slow burn. Even the short short stories have a pensively sluggish payoff. So if you are in the mood, the market, the mindset for literary work that
...more
Rick Slane
American lives in Tangier-writes about distant lands dispassionately
Roger Bailey
I suppose this anthology would be classified as literary fiction or non genre fiction. I ordinarily prefer genre fiction, especially science fiction, and one of the problems I have always had with so-called literary fiction is that the stories usually leave me wondering what the point was. Genre fiction usually does have a point to make, but literary fiction leaves me saying, "So what?" These stories, for the most part, left me saying the same thing, so what? There is not really anything specifi ...more
Heather Shaw
Oct 30, 2008 Heather Shaw rated it really liked it
Shelves: fiction
I like to have several books at once on my bedside table. Here's one that's been hanging on. (Actually, it's not this book, it's a Selected Works edition.) Almost ditched it when I finished with the travel writing -- I had a hard time getting past the amount of luggage he seemed to need to hail around. Then, the bio pages of his childhood really turned me off, as most "exceptional" early childhood bios do. Read the novella, "Too Far From Home" and was disappointed. It's a good story, but it's to ...more
Suzi
Oct 29, 2008 Suzi rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: lovers of short fiction
Recommended to Suzi by: Gary Dunham
His sense of culture and place is a palate to slather new colors of human behavior and feelings. North Africa is not Mayberry, U.S.A. And Bowles shows how humanity can exist in multitude forms, live in ways that crumble existing norms, cultural, spiritual, and of the soul. That even life and death are defined and hardened into each culture wherein they "live" (or die). Sexual morays. Personal relationships. What makes our shadows alive with new monsters. In this day and age of cultural melding a ...more
metaphor
Nov 05, 2015 metaphor rated it it was amazing
Shelves: paul-bowles
At least, I believe I know. If I am to doubt my own eyes and ears, then it is time I gave up entirely. But in connection with that idea a ghastly little thought occurs to me: am I doubting my eyes and ears? Obviously not; only my memory. Memory is a cleverer trickster by far. In that case, however, I am stark, raving mad, because I remember every detail of those hours spent in the subway. But here are the boxes piled in front of me on the desk, all twenty. I know them intimately. I glued down ea ...more
Serhan Gok
Jan 23, 2016 Serhan Gok rated it it was amazing
The very beginning of Genesis tells us that God created man in order to give him dominion over fish and fowl and all creatures. Of course, Genesis was written by a man, not a horse. There is no certainty that God actually did grant man dominion over other creatures. What seems more likely, in fact, is that man invented God to sanctify the dominion that he had usurped for himself over the cow and the horse.
PAUL DRAGAVON
Sep 17, 2009 PAUL DRAGAVON rated it really liked it
Shelves: edit
All the stories have the exciting immediacy of life. Especially "A Distant Episode," about an English Professor who wants "real" experiences in a small town on the edge of the Sahara. He is taken by a guide throughout the town and at the end is led to steep cliff at the bottom of which he hear the music and drums of a primitive tribe. The guide who clearly does not want to go down the trail starts the professor down and then leaves him. He stumbles down the hill and is caught by several tribal m ...more
Abby
I am all about under-read brilliant authors this year, apparently, because GUYS. PAUL BOWLES. Wow. It is a shame and a grave injustice that he isn't on every list of essential American authors. This is a thick, dazzling, astonishing collection of stories about human nature, especially its darker and weirder representatives. Many stories involve Morocco, where Bowles lived for most of his adult life, and almost every story involves a compelling character brought to life by Bowles's vivid, perfect ...more
Olga Kovalenko
Jun 12, 2013 Olga Kovalenko rated it it was amazing
I like the almost tangible mystery of the stories, foreigness and at the same time intimacy of Bowles' world. His language is immaculate; the intrigue is, well, intriguing, and the characters are fascinating. The most amazing thing for me is how he managed to get under the skin of foreign characters. Maybe the picture sounds convincing for me as a foreigner, of course, but in reality it can be far from the truth, from reality, since his forays into woman's psychology, for example, are from accur ...more
Sissy
This collection is the opposite of what I need to be reading at the moment. The first story alone is haunting without purpose and I abandoned this volume. I think I was expecting something very different than what it is and perhaps at another time could be resumed.
Paul
Apr 18, 2007 Paul rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Beat Readers
Everyone is aware of the great beat writers, Kerouac, Ginsberg, Kesey, but few are hip to Paul Bowles, an expatriate American living in Mexico, Morocco, and Europe. He and his wife Jane wrote some of the greatest novels never read.

As a writer, Bowles uses setting and circumstance to unsettle the reader. He typically describes nothing of the characters' physical appearance, leaving the reader to actually use his or her imagination.

For another perspective on Beat writing, Paul Bowles offers the ou
...more
Mary Beth
I read these years ago and it's time to re-read.
Bessie James
Jan 04, 2013 Bessie James rated it really liked it
Paul Bowles is a highly under-rated writer. You really should read him. These short stories are a good entry point. Some of them are pretty grim but few of them are not without wonderful passages. There are some chilling tales, here, not unlike the feeling you get with a great Poe story.

I enjoyed his The Sheltering Sky, too, which I read before these stories. If I had it to do over again, I would read the short stories first because they give you a better sense of his broader prose style.
Christopher Hawkes
May 07, 2012 Christopher Hawkes rated it really liked it
There's something terminally estranged about Paul Bowles' stories. Very well-written and effective in what they do but the nihilism gets a bit single-note after a while. In omnibus form you get the gist quick and it's a bold reader that keeps going. I jumped ship after the one where the murderer/thief/rapist gets buried up to his neck and left in the sand. How many images like that do you need floating around in your head?
Jake
Sep 15, 2008 Jake rated it really liked it
This is some classic stuff. Bowles is unlike anything else I've read. His patience in constructing a super creep-out is as profound as Poe's, but subtler and more harrowing. He gets you close enough to smell it without ever really getting your nose in it - in the good way. He has a sinsiter power that reminds you there are greater forces in the world. He was a mysterious man with strong threads of grace.
Kurt
Feb 08, 2015 Kurt added it
Truly a great writer, but what a world view. I'm amazed he didn't commit suicided.
Brian
Oct 26, 2007 Brian added it
to read.

read a nice paragraph that bowles wrote and have been wanting to read more of his writing ever since.

"in a Western country, if a whole segment of the population desires, for reasons of protest, to isolate itself in a radical fashion from the society around it, the quickest and surest way is for it to replace alcohol with cannibus"
Janie
Feb 25, 2008 Janie rated it it was amazing
These stories troubled me so much on the first read that I had to put it down, only to come back to it ten years later when I was better able to absorb the intensity of Bowles' writing. These are metaphysical/mystical tales. They read like wakeful dreams, inhabiting a place between worlds, haunting and strangely seductive.
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Paul Bowles grew up in New York, and attended college at the University of Virginia before traveling to Paris, where became a part of Gertrude Stein's literary and artistic circle. Following her advice, he took his first trip to Tangiers in 1931 with his friend, composer Aaron Copeland.

In 1938 he married author and playwright Jane Auer (see: Jane Bowles). He moved to Tangiers permanently in 1947,
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“It seems to me that if one could accept existence as it is, partake of it fully, the world could be magical. The cricket on my balcony at the moment piercing the night repeatedly with its hurried needle of sound, would be welcome merely because it is there, rather than an annoyance because it distracts me from what I am trying to do.” 1 likes
“When they had gone the Moungari fell silent, to wait through the cold hours for the sun that would bring first warmth, then heat, thirst, fire, visions. The next night he did not know where he was, did not feel the cold. The wind blew dust along the ground into his mouth as he sang.” 1 likes
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