‘A Stick of Green Candy’ by Jane Bowles

Mary plays alone in a clay pit, preparing her regiment of imaginary soldiers for war. She is at that tipping point where her inner life is fracturing under pressure from an adult world she both despises and desires. This beautifully internal and restrained story was the final one in Bowles’ collection, Plain Pleasures. It was also final in another sense. She wrote this in 1949 – and carried on writing for another two decades – but never completed another piece of fiction.

First published in Vogue, 1957, then collected in Plain Pleasures, Peter Owen, 1966. Available to read here

‘Camp Cataract’ by Jane Bowles

I am constantly surprised that Jane Bowles’s fiction is less well-known (and less regarded) than her husband, Paul’s (though, like many readers, I came to her by way of Paul). This is in part a matter of scale: Jane’s published stories number less than ten to Paul’s excess of one hundred (though the collection Everything is Nice brings together fragments, sketches, and an excised section of her novel, Two Serious Ladies, that works brilliantly as a self-contained narrative). But where Paul is inconsistent, each of Jane’s stories is a perfectly formed strangeness, a queered, compelling insight into small, daily actions that give way to yawning depths.

Her descriptions of the waterfall in ‘Camp Cataract’ showcase her ability to summon the sublime not through poetic description but brief, alienating observations. And though the characters in this story might superficially resemble the outsider-protagonists of Carson McCullers’ stories, I am inclined to agree with Bowles’ assessment: that McCullers’ “freaks aren’t real”—at least, they aren’t as real as Jane’s isolated, unconventional women.

Collected in Plain Pleasures, Peter Owen 1966, and republished in Everything is Nice, Sort of Books 2012