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An Invisible Spectator


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Bowles originally made his mark writing music, but his fiction has proven far more original and influential. His best-selling first novel, The Sheltering Sky ( LJ 11/15/49), introduced existential themes to American readers, and it and his other novels and finely crafted stories have deepened our understanding of Latin America and the Moslem world. In this pioneering biography the man himself emerges as somewhat less than sympathetic, ``an individual alone, isolated in his self-involvement.'' Recommended for collections of 20th-century American literature. Bowles's most recent book is A Distant Episode: The Selected Stories ( LJ 12/88).-- Grove Koger, Boise P.L., Id.

Though Bowles's ( The Sheltering Sky ) complex personal life (including marriage to Jane Bowles, a lesbian) and celebrated globetrotting are narrated conscientiously by MIT foreign language teacher Sawyer-Laucanno in this first biography of the novelist, the intriguing links between the life and the work--and the intricate scope of the work itself--are not fully probed. Born in 1910 in New York City, the only child of a violent, troubled father and beleaguered mother, Bowles was initially a poet, then a composer (and protege of Aaron Copland) before hitting his stride in fiction, where he proved ``a master of charting inner disintegration, madness and terror,'' characteristically creating ``a rather chilling sense . . . that the observer is incapable of any real involvement in the action'' and often choosing North Africa, Malaysia, Mexico or South America--exotically free of the binding ties of Western morality--as settings. Though influential on the Beat movement, in part because of his experiments with drugs and ``automatic'' writing, Bowles has not received the critical attention his fine work, particularly the short stories, deserves. Sawyer-Laucanno's attentive but modest effort, will, one hopes, be only the first. Photos not seen by PW . (June)

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