Paul Bowles 1949 book, The Sheltering Sky, focuses on the lives of an American couple and a friend and their travels together in the North African desert. Bowles never answers the question as to why they choose to travel that region, although he hints at marital difficulties between Kit Moresby and her husband, Porter, who it seems, is just seeking adventure and believes Europe to be ruined by war.
Kit is portrayed as rather manipulative; She becomes guilt-ridden after almost responding to the romantic attentions of their friend, Tunner. Her relationship with Porter is noticeably lacking in both romance and genuine affection. Tunner apparently has amorous feelings for Kit, which are never fully explored or explained by the author.
Another hallmark of these characters is that none of them seem aware of the myriad dangers present around them---from disease and bad food to political unrest. There is also the matter of an over-bearing, extremely racist, anti-Semitic English woman and her thieving son, who attempt to befriend the trio. Aside from feeling superior to Jews, the French and Africans, which the reader learns about via increasingly jarring commentary, her character and that of her son, appear to exemplify the worst of English classicism and racism, while Americans are portrayed as ignorant, adventure-seeking fools. Arabs are seen in a somewhat more sympathetic light.
When Porter dies after an unnamed illness, Kit wastes no time in fleeing, leaving Porter's corpse to be discovered by Tunner and the police. Leaving her old life behind, Kit determines to have an adventure of her own, paying no heed to the possible dangers, cultural differences or vagaries of politics that darken the road ahead.
Eventually becoming the concubine of an Arab, Kit also realises she too is ill, a situation that escalates as the last part of the story unfolds. When she is escapes and is at last located by the police and consulate, the woman sent to organise Kit's return to the United States is genuinely shocked at her appearance and attitude and wonders whether Kit has gone mad.
The reader, at least this one, is left with that unanswered question as well as others. and struck by Bowles apparent dislike of his characters.
As an expatriate himself for over fifty years, Bowles may have seen adventurers of every stripe; he is certainly unstinting in his portrayals. An interesting contrast in his own life is that Paul Bowles writing is characterized by dark elements while his musical compositions, for which he is also well known, are of much lighter tone. For more information about the author, visit the official Bowles website at http://www.PaulBowles.org.
The Sheltering Sky is a provacative read.