With preparations for a wedding (Dec. 29) and Christmas, I haven’t been writing much lately. I have been reading. I’m about halfway through Paul Bowles’ The Sheltering Sky, the 49th book on my 100-novels reading list, and recently finished Diane Ackerman’s The Zookeeper’s Wife, a book I picked up at the Texas Book Festival last month.
As for The Sheltering Sky, I’m enjoying the read this time around, much more than I did the first time I read it between semesters when in graduate school. First of all, I’m following the plot better, what plot there is. Second of all, when I first read the novel, I was much more interested in Bowles than the novel itself; I had read a biography of him that said he was an early influence on the Beats and of promoting existentialist thought in post-World War II America, and I can see those influences in The Sheltering Sky.
The bleakness of the post-war North African landscape wedded to a bleak marriage makes for a strong existentialist outlook. And that outlook became very hip among American writers after World War II. Overall, writers such as Norman Mailer and Jack Kerouac, though on the surface they took opposite directions, especially stylistically, explored hipster existentialism. Bowles seems a precursor to them. To me, his characters are bewildered. They haven’t quite shed their lost generation outlook, the Americans Port and Kit in particular, though the world has changed once again because of a world war.
Port and Kit’s inability to shed the past seems to be an American trait, a trait Faulkner explored so effectively. Or when they try to shed it, they get lost, because they’ve found nothing to replace the past with; and it’s too difficult to live in the present.