Paul Bowles's seductive, terrifying, exquisitely detached fictions have inspired writers and iconoclasts from the Beats to the present day. In this brilliant and definitive biography, the result of exhaustive research as well as in-depth interviews with Bowles himself and with those who knew him best, Christopher Sawyer-Lauçanno unlocks the mystique that surrounds the man and his work. An Invisible Spectator chronicles Bowles's early years as a composer and rising literary luminary, his marriage to tormented author Jane Bowles, his voluntary exile in North Africa, where he presided over the famous expatriate community of Tangiers--all of it interwoven with vivid depictions of Bowles's intimates, including Truman Capote, Gertrude Stein, Allen Ginsberg, and William Burroughs.
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 .