Paul Bowles: Let It Come Down
?Ah.? He was thinking: ?I?ve got to get out of here. I?ve got to get going.?
?We?re all monsters,? said Daisy with enthusiasm. ?It?s the Age of Monsters. Why is the story of the woman and the wolves so terrible? You know the story, where she has a sled full of children, crossing the tundra, and the wolves are following her, and she tosses out one child after another to placate the beasts. Everyone thought it ghastly a hundred years ago. But today it?s much more terrible. Much. Because then it was remote and unlikely, and now it?s entered into the realm of the possible. It?s a terrible story not because the woman is a monster. Not at all. But because what she did to save herself is exactly what we?d all do. It?s terrible because it?s so desperately true.?
The title of Bowles?s second novel is taken, he explains in his introduction, from the passage in Macbeth where Banquo is murdered:
BANQUO: It will be Rayne to Night.
1ST MURD.: Let it come downe.
(They set upon Banquo.)
Bowles?s character is Nelson Dyer, an American who has arrived in distant Tangier to take a job working at a travel agency for a fellow American he hasn't seen for years, who he barely remembers and isn?t sure that he ever liked. Dyer is fed up with America and wants an out, even if it?s under the flimsiest of pretexts; he hopes that a strange foreign land will see life begin. He is a man who has no clear idea of who he is, and the author stacks the deck against him by making him too much the blank slate. For anyone familiar with Bowles?s work, the American nonentity who gets swallowed and destroyed by the North African environs that he cannot understand is a recurring character. Kit and Port Moresby in The Sheltering Sky were silly and not very likable, but at least they had personality. Dyer is an empty man completely incapable of self-reflection who the reader remains indifferent to (though that he will come to a bad end feels certain). In an early episode of the book the local eccentric, the Marquesa de Valverde (?Daisy?) reads Dyer?s palm and remarks: ?I?ve never seen such an empty hand. It?s terrifying.? There's nothing wrong with this scene except its obviousness; it only serves to underline what has already been made apparent and feels uncommonly lazy coming from Bowles.
Bowles was never much for empathizing with his doomed characters, but he is strong at portraying his locales. In the introduction he says that each of the characters is modeled after actual residents of Tangier (one, a blowhard at a party, is a caricature of the author), all of whom have either moved or died; Dyer is the only totally fictionalized character. Bowles knows his milieu, he knows the streets and alleyways of his city (he lived in Tangier from 1947 until his death in 1999), and he knows its inhabitants. This modeling of characters on real people works to the novel?s disadvantage: one wishes that the novel had centered on any of them rather than Dyer, whose purpose is to barely exist until he is crushed.
Bowles is a master of presenting grotesque scenarios in a bare, detached manner (the brutal murder of an Arab boy in ?The Delicate Prey,? the seduction of a man by his own son in ?Pages From Cold Point?). In Let it Come Down Dyer becomes smitten with a Moroccan child prostitute who?s also coveted by a fat, drunken Englishwoman, and the horrible murder of one of the main characters at the end is potent. However the novel is not Bowles at his finest. His best short stories take little time to stick the knife in and give it a hard twist, and Let it Come Down feels overlong, dulling the impact of the ending. The author?s first and greatest novel, The Sheltering Sky, also spun in unexpected directions and the effect was chilling and haunting. Here the final section finds Dyer fleeing Tangiers into the desert unknown ? most of the other characters abandoned, never to be mentioned again. In the author?s best work this refusal to apply the artificial neat resolve, this sending of the story in a startling new direction, is an effective device. However, Let it Come Down never truly gripped me, and so its strange flight and grim finale rang hollow.
The maker of kitsch does not create inferior art, he is not an incompetent or a bungler, he cannot be evaluated by aesthetic standards; rather, he is ethically depraved, a criminal willing radical evil. - Hermann Broch