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The Delicate Prey: And Other Stories

The Delicate Prey: And Other Stories

by Paul Bowles

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Exemplary storles that reveal the blzarre, the dlsturblng, the perllous, and the wlse ln other clvlllzatlons — from one of Amerlca's most lmportant wrlters of the twentleth century.


Exemplary storles that reveal the blzarre, the dlsturblng, the perllous, and the wlse ln other clvlllzatlons — from one of Amerlca's most lmportant wrlters of the twentleth century.

Editorial Reviews

Tobias Wolff
The Delicate Prey is in fact one of the most profound, beautifully wrought, and haunting collections in our literature,…Bowles's tales are at once austere, witty, violent, and sensuous. They move with the inevitability of myth. His language has a purity of line, a poise and authority entirely its own, capable of instantly modulating from farce to horror without a ruffle and without giving any signal of delight in itself. It never goes on parade.
Jay McInerney
Paul Bowles's sense of what can go wrong is as acute as that of any American writer since Poe. It's not simply the subject matter but the pitiless clarity, the unblinking regard in the face of human frailty and cruelty, that is so disquieting in Bowles's work. Whereas the terror in Poe seems to arise from an overheated romantic imagination suffering the torments it bodies forth, Bowles's sensibility is classical in its aloofness, his prose as hard—edged and dazzling as a desert landscape at noon.
Vanity Fair

Product Details

HarperCollins Publishers
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Product dimensions:
5.31(w) x 8.00(h) x 0.72(d)

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

at paso rojo

When old Senora Sanchez died, her two daughters Lucha and Chalia decided to visit their brother at his ranch. Out of devotion they had agreed never to marry while their mother lived, and now that she was gone and they were both slightly over forty there seemed just as little likelihood of a wedding in the family as there ever had. They would probably not admit this even to themselves, however. It was with complete understanding of his two sisters that Don Federico suggested they leave the city and go down to Paso Rojo for a few weeks.

Lucha arrived in black crepe. To her, death was one of the things that happen in life with a certain regularity, and it therefore demanded outward observance. Otherwise her life was in no way changed, save that at the ranch she would have to get used to a whole new staff of servants.

"Indians, poor things, animals with speech," she said to Don Federico the first night as they sat having coffee. A barefooted girl had just carried the dessert dishes out.

Don Federico smiled. "They are good people," he said deliberately. Living at the ranch so long had lowered his standards, it was said, for even though he had always spent a month or so of each year in the capital, he had grown increasingly indifferent to the social life there.

"The ranch is eating his soul little by little," Lucha used to say to Senora Sanchez.

Only once the old lady had replied. "If his soul is to be eaten, then let the ranch do it."

She looked around the primitive dining room with its dry decorations of palm leaves and branches. "He loves it here because everything is his," she thought, "and some ofthe things could never have been his if he had not purposely changed to fit them." That was not a completely acceptable thought. She knew the ranch had made him happy and tolerant and wise; to her it seemed sad that he could not have been those things without losing his civilized luster. And that he certainly had lost. He had the skin of a peasant—brown and lined everywhere. He had the slowness of speech of men who have lived for long periods of time in the open. And the inflections of his voice suggested the patience that can come from talking to animals rather than to human beings. Lucha was a sensible woman; still, she could not help feeling a certain amount of regret that her little brother, who at an earlier point in his life had been the best dancer among the members of the country club, should have become the thin, sad-faced, quiet man who sat opposite her.

"You've changed a great deal," she suddenly said, shaking her head from side to side slowly.

"Yes. You change here. But it's a good place."

"Good, yes. But so sad," she said.

He laughed. "Not sad at all. You get used to the quiet. And then you find it's not quiet at all. But you never change much, do you? Chalia's the one who's different. Have you noticed?"

"Oh, Chalia's always been crazy. She doesn't change either."

"Yes. She is very much changed." He looked past the smoking oil lamp, out into the dark. "Where is she? Why doesn't she take coffee?"

"She has insomnia. She never takes it."

"Maybe our nights will put her to sleep," said Don Federico.

Chalia sat on the upper veranda in the soft night breeze. The ranch stood in a great clearing that held the jungle at bay all about, but the monkeys were calling from one side to the other, as if neither clearing nor ranch house existed. She had decided to put off going to bed—that way there was less darkness to be borne in case she stayed awake. The lines of a poem she had read on the train two days before were still in her mind: "Aveces la noche . . . . Sometimes the night takes you with it, wraps you up and rolls you along, leaving you washed in sleep at the morning's edge." Those lines were comforting. But there was the terrible line yet to come: "And sometimes the night goes on without you." She tried to jump from the image of the fresh sunlit morning to a completely alien idea: the waiter at the beach club in Puntarenas, but she knew the other thought was waiting there for her in the dark.

She had worn riding breeches and a khaki shirt open at the neck, on the trip from the capital, and she had announced to Lucha her intention of going about in those clothes the whole time she was at Paso Rojo. She and Lucha had quarreled at the station.

"Everyone knows Mama has died," said Lucha, "and the ones who aren't scandalized are making fun of you."

With intense scorn in her voice Chalia had replied, "You have asked them, I suppose."

On the train as it wound through the mountains toward tierra caliente she had suddenly said, apropos of nothing: "Black doesn't become me." Really upsetting to Lucha was the fact that in Puntarenas she had gone off and bought some crimson nail polish which she had painstakingly applied herself in the hotel room.

"You can't, Chalia!" cried her sister, wide-eyed. "You've never done it before. Why do you do it now?"

Chalia had laughed immoderately. "Just a whim!" she had said, spreading her decorated hands in front of her.

Loud footsteps came up the stairs and along the veranda, shaking it slightly. Her sister called: "Chalia!"

She hesitated an instant, then said, "Yes."

"You're sitting in the dark! Wait. I'll bring out a lamp from your room. What an idea!"

"We'll be covered with insects," objected Chalia, who, although her mood was not a pleasant one, did not want it disturbed.

What People are Saying About This

Norman Mailer
Paul Bowles has opened the world of Hip. He let in the murder, the drugs, the incest, the death of the Square…the call of the orgy, the end of civilization.

Meet the Author

Paul Bowles was born in 1910 and studied music with composer Aaron Copland before moving to Tangier, Morocco. A devastatingly imaginative observer of the West's encounter with the East, he is the author of four highly acclaimed novels: The Sheltering Sky, Let It Come Down, The Spider's House, and Up Above the World. In addition to being one of the most powerful postwar American novelists, Bowles was an acclaimed composer, a travel writer, a poet, a translator, and a short story writer. He died in Morocco in 1999.

Vendela Vida is the award-winning author of five books including And Now You Can Go, Let the Northern Lights Erase Your Name, and The Lovers. A founding editor of The Believer magazine, she lives in Northern California with her husband and two children. 

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