Tag: bowles

Bowles, “The Echo” (1946)

paul bowles the echo colombia jungle

Colombia’s Ciudad Perdida trek 086 (McKay Savage)

Toward the end of the story Aileen, the young protagonist college girl reluctantly spending her vacation with her mother and her mother’s homebreaking lover Prue in a Colombian jungle, Aileen is walking by the huts of poor natives. A young man beckons her over through a mesh fence, then spits a mouthful of water at her face and dress. Westerners are not liked in the jungle, because they presume too much: “if Luz could only learn a little more about what white people like to eat an how they like it served,” Aileen’s mother writes her in the three-page letter that opens the story as Aileen is flying in through the white clouds she wants to step on, like a comic book character. The letter hints at the way Prue broke up the marriage between Aileen’s father and mother. The tension between Aileen and Prue is obvious from the letter. Prue to Aileen is “ungracious, ugly and something of an interloper.” Tension builds: it’s the story’s most appealing strength, that build-up. It explodes in a physical pummeling, by Aileen of Prue, after Prue flicks water from her glass at Aileen the morning of Aileen’s early departure, after her mother essentially threw her out for not getting along with Prue. A sense of the primeval recurs down to that primeval fight and the scream Aileen lets out at the end, when she is reduced to something primal, bashing the woman who’s taken possession of her mother. There’s nothing appealing in Prue, but Aileen is not much more so, and the intrusive sense Bowles builds up, of Aileen’s visit, is secondary to how obliviously intrusive all three of these characters are on the jungle around them. None of them belongs, not just Aileen.

Harper’s, September 1946

Paul Bowles, “Under the Sky” (1947)

The lurid story of young a mountain man, Jacinto, who comes down to an inferno of a town under a lightning-ridden sky to sell “all the things his family had made since his last trip.” He’s an angry man. He rolls five joints in front of others. A man threatens him with arrest of he doesn’t share. He must give up two joints. He’s livid, but not armed. He is at heart a coward, as we will soon see. He encounters a trio of travelers just off the train who look at him oddly as they pass by. He waits for one of them to come out of the hotel at night. One does. A woman, “not the younger one.” She smokes. They talk. He suddenly drags her beneath the lightning sky and swears to her that he’s about to kill the man who is with the other woman because he wants the woman. It’s a subterfuge. The woman screams. He tells her she’s saving the man’s life–by essentially letting him, Jacinto, take her to the cemetery, where he rapes her. She then leaves. “He was happy because she had not asked for any money.” The next year he waited for the train four days. Nothing. At the cemetery, he sobs. I have no idea why. A passing woman says, “He has lost his mother.” If that’s supposed to be a clue, it doesn’t ring true. Nor does the story soar anywhere near the first paragraph’s lyricism:


There’s also a derisive, primitive attitude about the simplicity of the natives, Bowles depicting them as two-dimensional brutes, when the telling of the story seems more brutal.

Horizons, June 1947.

[rape, natives, lightning, marijuana]