Bowles is one of my favorite writers, stark yet rich; prose with a darkness so lush it draws you in no matter how unsettling the image. So when Bowles writes a love story, you can expect it’s bound to be a dubious one, not the kind you’d ever want to live out. The husband and wife at the center of Bowles’ novel (number #97 in the Modern Library’s list of 100 Best Novels), are Port and Kit Moresby, who leave the U.S. during wartime in 1939, and arriving in north Africa, take up a peripatetic existence with a third wheel, an American friend, Tunner. Port and Kit have hit a rough spot in their marriage, but the triad never takes hold, since Tunner doesn’t have the power to permeate Kit’s detachment, or Port’s ego. Though with the arrival of the Lyles, a questionable English couple—well, a mother and son—the inciting event occurs, and the group is drawn further into the Sahara. The journey that takes place, to the center of a world and a soul, is as much interior as it is exterior.
If you have yet to read the novel, or any of Bowles’ celebrated stories, you have a discovery to look forward to—in Bowles’ spare and cruelly beautiful prose, his sense of place, his tempered way with terror and delirium—all can be relished in this novel. But if it’s love story you’re after, The Sheltering Sky is about a place far more remote and unfathomable than love.