Such early masterpieces as “A Distant Episode,” “The Delicate Prey” and “Pages From Cold Point” happened almost effortlessly, he recalled. And they captivated the public: In expatriation, homosexuality and Morocco, he was drawing on material that titillated readers in strait-laced postwar America. Mainstream book publishers, though, were slow to catch on. He submitted a full-length manuscript, “The Sheltering Sky,” only to have Doubleday reject it because it was “not a novel.” (“If it isn’t a novel, I don’t know what it is,” Bowles groused.) It came out first in London, then in the States under the imprint of a small press, New Directions. In short order Bowles had his revenge: The book became a critical success and a 1950 bestseller. Even so, much of his work was brought out — or kept in print — by shoestring operations.
I have a sort of love-hate relationship with Bowles, I think. I find his work, especially his short stories, to be exquisitely wrought and brilliantly written. But, on other days, I look at how he chose to depict his Moroccan characters and I see a man who didn’t care for or understand the place he lived in for much of his life.