The Sheltering Sky
is perhaps Paul Frederic Bowles' (1910-1999)
best known book, one stumbling upon his lesser known works finds
many of the same themes intact. Let It Come Down
is no exception.
Set in Morocco, where Mr. Bowles lived most of his life from the
late 1940's on, we are inundated with a landscape so bleak that
it succeeds in stripping the characters bare. As in many of his
other Moroccan tales, the weather and the sky play important roles
as mirrors of the characters' emotions. In The Sheltering Sky
the expanse of wide blue sky speaks of desire for escape. But in
Let It Come Down
we get not the endless sky, but oppressive,
heavy clouds and never-ending rain.
Dyar, the main character,
an American fresh from an unspectacular and uneventful life in New
York City, comes to Morocco after locating a childhood acquaintance,
some sort of travel agent, who is living in the International Zone
in Tangiers. The friend invites him to Morocco, and with nothing
to ground him in New York, or anywhere else for that matter, Dyar
goes off to work for the friend in the travel agency.
What we get in Dyar,
as Bowles describes him, is a hero who is a non-entity, a self-described
victim whose personality is defined solely in terms of situation.
He elicits sympathy only to the extent to which he is victimized.
Dyar is a small man with small dreams who has never really lived,
and those stunted passions work their way to the surface in Morocco,
intertwining him with a situation that eventually pushes him to
the abyss. The title, taken from a passage in Macbeth
Banquo remarks about the weather to men outside his home who are
preparing to set upon him with knives ("Let it [Rayne] come downe."),
reflects Let it Come Down's
reality and supreme irony. Dyar
seems to misinterpret the motives of all he comes across; those
highly cynical interpretations lead to poor readings of his situation.
Let it Come Down
is a superior book to The Sheltering Sky
in terms of plotting
and momentum. Themes of alienation and aloneness pervade one as
in the other. Where it is inferior is in its somewhat detective
story-like plot, or in the feeling of unsteadiness one gets about
the "theft" situation in which Dyar eventually finds himself. Perhaps
Paul Bowles created a thrilling situation as a means of accentuating
Dyar's relatively boring life.
I have not read
Paul Bowles' biographies, other than short blurbs about his life
as a composer, writer and traveler, and so I wouldn't venture into
an interpretation of the Dyar character as a composite of the author.
Mr. Bowles does say about this book that Dyar is the only character
that was truly invented, while all the rest were amalgamations of
people he knew in Tangier. Questions of self and perception are
main topics. Dyar has no strong inner life and is a reflection of
what others feed him of himself. When he tries to break free he
commits to a reckless decision. He is ruined by the realization
he has stepped out of his place.
Where Bowles does
his finest work is in the small things, the small descriptions of
markets and people on the streets, the weather and the landscape,
which bring Dyar's sensations to the reader with a sense of foreboding
and menace. As with The Sheltering Sky
, Paul Bowles paints
a bleak landscape full of flawed characters who are sometimes cartoonish,
sometimes convincing--at times rough, at times clean as a diamond
cut. Therein lies his ability to make them real.