7.12.2014

Up Above the World by Paul Bowles



Been in a recent Paul Bowles bender of late -- just his novels, autobiography and letters -- not the smoke of incense or hashish wafting out of the waiting pages of, say, Midnight Mass or A Hundred Camels in the Courtyard, two of his story collections.  Perhaps its the close proximity of svelte palms ensconced in the seagrass'd hollows of sand dunes, the drowsy ssh of the evening waves, the warm aroma of Lamb Tagine carried on the offshore breeze from the Moroccan take-out just down the beach -- "Tariq's" -- that makes Bowles so resonate with me this past relaxing week on holiday.

"At lunchtime the hotel's dining room was crowded with the sleek upper-class local population.  Here where they don't need it they've got air conditioning…"

So true, Mr. Bowles, even here on the California coast, half a century later, our balcony sliding glass door is open to the ocean with the air conditioner going…

"You'll never be happy until you do what you know's the right thing.  That's what life's about, after all."

"What life's about!" he cried incredulously.  What is life about?  Yes.  What's the subject matter?" He stirred the sauce.  "It's about who's going to clean up the shit."

"I don't know what you mean," she said, her voice hostile.

Life, I've found, is about stirring the shit just right so that it's palatable to both sides, be it protagonist and antagonist, husband and wife, politician and constituent.  Wouldn't you agree, Mr. Bowles?

"Words were deceptive, the very short ones most of all."

A short deceptive novel -- Up Above the World -- from which the above italicized quotes, excerpted with purposeful obfuscatory intent, were taken.  Overshadowed by The Sheltering Sky, Bowles' iconic first novel, this last novel by Bowles, published in 1966, regardless looms high like a dark cloud above a Spanish villa with a panoramic view of both the Atlantic and Pacific from its prominent, though precipitous, perch above the proletariat jungles of a slender, unnamed Latin American nation.  Panama, anyone?  Or a panorama, that is, except when it rains.  And it rains down cats and death -- and literal rain indeed -- in Up Above the World, a book whose outlook might be even bleaker, its relationships stormier, than Bowles' desolate, Saharan debut.

I've said enough (or not nearly enough) about this novel already, except the bit about the arson, curare, matricide, the "Slade" couple whose age difference was reminiscent to me of the late Anna Nicole's and J. Howard Marshall IIs -- around half-a-century (though in the former's case perhaps I exaggerate, but first impressions are genuine impressions after all) -- and that the novel was good but not quite great.

And I don't care if, like Luchita -- shrewd teenage duper of the alleged good doctor and his barely legal, brittle bride (and whose hostile voice is quoted above) -- you don't know what I mean.

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