book cover of A Distant Episode

A Distant Episode

The Selected Stories
A collection of stories by

Movement and dark exotica are the hallmarks of any Paul Bowles story. In the title piece a linguist bums his way down on a bus to "the warm country" in what may well be Morocco, returning to a town--and a friend--he has not seen in 10 years. He learns that the friend has died and, overcome by a perverse and almost exalted carelessness, makes a curious proposition to the qaouaji who serves him tea. The strange becomes the sinister; the lonely becomes a hallucinatory horror. When the unspeakable finally comes to pass (the dogs, the guns, the evil men), it's a relief.

The characters in these stories are shaped and fated by place. "The pleasure of writing stories, as opposed to novels," Bowles observes in the preface, "lies in the freedom to allow protagonists to invent their own personalities as they emerge from the landscape." The collection that ensues, chosen by the author and written over a 40-year period, reflects this creed. And the improvisational feel of the works comes precisely from the power place is accorded as the dominant force on characters and their actions.

Characters adrift in menacingly unfamiliar places--Algeria, Marrakech, Colombia--are people exiled or en route to exile. For two such travelers, this might be a quintessential Bowles moment:

He: "You think you humor me so much? I haven't noticed it." His voice was sullen.

She: "I don't humor you at all. I'm just trying to live with you on an extended trip in a lot of cramped little cabins on an endless series of stinking boats."

Bowles's delivery--deadpan, without affectation, hyperbole, or discourse--sets up a disconcerting and delicious tension. Fate, in each story, is allowed to play itself out with no authorial summing-up, no interjection against the intractable landscape. Remember that Bowles country acknowledges a debt to the sensibilities of such literary peers as Allen Ginsberg, William S. Burroughs, and Jay McInerney. Don't look for meaning in the obvious places. Let it emerge like insights and connections made from the stuff of the subconscious. Regardless, this collection offers the good old-fashioned experience of excellent fiction--from a writer who will blow your assumptions about the world wide open.

Genre: Literary Fiction

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Paperback Editions

June 2006 : USA Paperback

Title: A Distant Episode: The Selected Stories
Author(s): Paul Bowles
ISBN: 0-06-113738-3 / 978-0-06-113738-9 (USA edition)
Publisher: Ecco
Availability: Amazon   Amazon UK   Amazon CA   

1988 : USA Paperback

Title: A distant episode: The selected stories
Author(s): Paul Bowles
ISBN: 0-88001-204-8 / 978-0-88001-204-1 (USA edition)
Publisher: Ecco Press
Availability: Amazon   Amazon UK   Amazon CA   

February 1996 : USA Paperback

Title: A Distant Episode
Author(s): Paul Bowles
ISBN: 0-88001-501-2 / 978-0-88001-501-1 (USA edition)
Publisher: Harper Perennial
Availability: Amazon   Amazon UK   Amazon CA   

Kindle Editions

March 2014 : UK Kindle edition

Title: A Distant Episode (Penguin Modern Classics)
Author(s): Paul Bowles
Publisher: Penguin
Availability: Amazon UK