‘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