The Library of America's Bowles: Collected Stories and Later Writings, a companion volume to their edition of his three novels, coming in at over a thousand pages, is not the kind of book most readers are going to sit down and read cover to cover. Moreover, unless they are scholars doing research on the expatriate, it would probably not be the best way to experience the wealth of material, anyway. There can be too much even of a good thing. There are a lot of stories here: fifty-two, according to the notes, as well as an assortment of other pieces. Too much at one time, and everything begins to run together; stories lose their definition. This is the kind of book that needs to be dipped into and savored a story or two or three at a time.
Included in the volume are five of Bowles' published collections: The Delicate Prey and Other Stories (1950), A Hundred Camels in the Courtyard (1962), The Time of Friendship (1967), Things Gone and Things Still Here (1977), and Midnight Mass (1981). There are also selections from his later stories, his 1963 travel book, Their Heads Are Green and Their Hands Are Blue, and his short novel Up Above the World. It is a veritable cornucopia for the Bowles fan, especially since some of Bowles' best writing is in his short stories.
The theme that most often seems to dominate his best work is the clash of cultures. He likes to set a representative or two of so called Western civilization in some foreign culture — primitive Central American Indian or alien North African, for example — and see how they fare. More often than not, they don't fare very well. Their civilized codes are little help to them when faced with those who do not subscribe to those codes. Probably the best example of this is "A Distant Episode," a story in which a Western professor is enslaved and reduced to madness by a Nomadic band of Arabs called the Reguibat. There are, of course, many other examples. "Afternoon With Antaeus" echoes the Greek myth in a monologue where the speaker gets the better of a visiting Westerner. In "Under the Sky" an Indian rapes a Western woman who may well be a more than willing victim. It is a common theme in his stories.