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It was night by the time the little ferry drew up alongside the dock. As Dyar went down the gangplank a sudden gust of wind threw warm raindrops in his face. The other passengers were few and poorly dressed; they carried their things in cheap cardboard valises and paper bags. He watched them standing resignedly in front of the customs house waiting for the door to be opened. A half-dozen disreputable Moroccans had already caught sight of him from the other side of the fence and were shouting at him. "Hotel Metropole, mister!" "Hey, Johnny! Come on!" "You want hotel?" "Grand Hotel, hey!" It was as if he had held up his American passport for them to see. He paid no attention. The rain came down in earnest for a minute or so. By the time the official had opened the door he was uncomfortably wet.
The room inside was lighted by three oil lamps placed along the counter, one to an inspector. They saved Dyar until last, and all three of them went through his effects very carefully, without a gleam of friendliness or humor. When he had repacked his grips so they would close, they marked them with lavender chalk and reluctantly let him pass. He had to wait in line at the window over which was printed Policia. While he was standing there a tall man in a visored cap caught his attention, calling: "Taxi!" The man was decently dressed, and so he signaled yes with hishead. Straightway the man in the cap was embroiled in a struggle with the others as he stepped to take the luggage. Dyar was the only prey that evening. He turned his head away disgustedly as the shouting figures followed the taxi-driver out the door. He felt a little sick anyway.
And in the taxi, as the rain pelted the windshield and the squeaking wipers rubbed painfully back and forth on the glass, he went on feeling sick. He was really here now; there was no turning back. Of course there never had been any question of turning back. When he had written he would take the job and had bought his passage from New York, he had known his decision was irrevocable. A man does not change his mind about such things when he has less than five hundred dollars left. But now that he was here, straining to see the darkness beyond the wet panes, he felt for the first time the despair and loneliness he thought he had left behind. He lit a cigarette and passed the pack to the driver.
He decided to let the driver determine for him where he would stay. The man was a Moroccan and understood very little English, but he did know the words cheap and clean. They passed from the breakwater onto the mainland, stopped at a gate where two police inspectors stuck their heads in through the front windows, and then they drove slowly for a while along a street where there were a few dim lights. When they arrived at the hotel the driver did not offer to help him with his luggage, nor was there any porter in sight. Dyar looked again at the entrance: the façade was that of a large modern hotel, but within the main door he saw a single candle burning. He got down and began pulling out his bags. Then he glanced questioningly at the driver who was watching him empty the cab of the valises; the man was impatient to be off.
When he had set all his belongings on the sidewalk and paid the driver, he pushed the hotel door open and saw a young man with smooth black hair and a dapper moustache sitting at the small reception desk. The candle provided the only light. He asked if this were the Hotel de la Playa, and did not know whether he was glad or sorry to hear that it was. Getting his bags into the lobby by himself took a little while. Then, led by a small boy who carried a candle, he climbed the stairs to his room; the elevator was not working because there was no power.
They climbed three flights. The hotel was like an enormous concrete resonating chamber; the sound of each footstep, magnified, echoed in all directions. The building had the kind of intense and pure shabbiness attained only by cheap new constructions. Great cracks had already appeared in the walls, bits of the decorative plaster mouldings around the doorways had been chipped off, and here and there a floor tile was missing.
When they reached the room the boy went in first and touched a match to a new candle that had been stuck in the top of an empty Cointreau bottle. The shadows shot up along the walls. Dyar sniffed the close air with displeasure. The odor in the room suggested a mixture of wet plaster and unwashed feet.
"Phew! It stinks in here," he said. He looked suspiciously at the bed, turned the stained blue spread back to see the sheets.
Opposite the door there was one large window which the boy hastened to fling open. A blast of wind rushed in out of the darkness. There was the faint sound of surf. The boy said something in Spanish, and Dyar supposed he was telling him it was a good room because it gave on the beach. He did not much care which way the room faced: he had not come here on a vacation. What he wanted at the moment was a bath. The boy shut the window and hurried downstairs to get the luggage. In one corner, separated from the rest of the room by a grimy partition, was a shower with gray concrete walls and floor. He tried the tap marked caliente and was surprised to find the water fairly hot.
Excerpted from Let It Come Down by Paul Bowles Copyright © 2006 by Paul Bowles. Excerpted by permission.
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Posted November 16, 2006
Paul Bowles had already established himself as an American composer when, at the age of 38, he published 'The Sheltering Sky' and became one of the most powerful writers after world war two. By the time of his death in 1999 he had become a legendary writer. From his base in Tangier he produced novels, stories, and travel writings. Bowles describes collisions between 'civilized' exiles and unfamiliar societies. In fiction of slowly growing menace, he achieves effects of horror and dislocation. In 'Let It Come Down' ( 1952 ), Bowles tells the doomed trajectory of Nelson Dyer, a New York bank teller who comes to Tangier in search of a different life and ends up giving in to his darkest impulses. Rich in descriptions of the corruption and decadence of the International Zone in the last days before Moroccan independence, Bowles second novel is a comic and at the same time horror-like account of a descent into the pool of nihilism. I give 4 stars because Bowles' philosophy is sometimes oversimplified and the comical can be childish. For instance one of the characters slips over a little heap of dung and he falls to the ground. But altogether this book is interesting for its mixture of adventure and vivid descriptions of Tangier and the surrounding landscapes.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.