A Distant Episode by Paul Bowles

Paul Bowles

Paul Bowles, author of A Distant Episode and much more

I had read Paul Bowles’ novel The Sheltering Sky back around age 22 when there was nothing more important to me than finding lists of books I was supposed to read and then pretending I enjoyed them.

But I read it again recently and loved it. Sheltering Sky was all I knew about Bowles, however. When I started looking up his other works I was very happy to see that he had written approximately a million books and short stories.

Because I had just finished a long work of his, I decided to try short stories next. The first story I read was called A Distant Episode. I highly recommend that you read it, and that you brace yourself before doing so.

I won’t spoil things, but allow me to say this: a linguist in a distant land (distant from me in America) gets himself into a horrible predicament with some of the shadier natives.

Bowles is my favorite kind of author–he can write beautifully and eloquently, but understands how spare prose can have a chilling, brutal effect. I can’t imagine that he ever does this better than in A Distant Episode. He’s also as unsympathetic with his characters as anyone I’ve met, although Joe R. Lansdale might argue that he puts his people in even direr (is that a word?) straits.

I’ll be writing more about Bowles’ short stories here. If you’re looking for other good short story collections I can, of late, recommend:

  • High Cotton by Lansdale
  • The Myth of Sisyphus by Albert Camus (not fiction, but a great collection of short writing)
  • Everything by Flannery O’Connor
  • Any standalone vignette from Twain’s The Innocents Abroad

There you have it. Shake off the listlessness so well-displayed in I’m Living Alone and read some Bowles.

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