cover image Mr. Bones

Mr. Bones

Paul Theroux. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $27 (368p) ISBN 978-0-544-32402-2

The 20 stories in the 30th work of fiction from Theroux (The Mosquito Coast) grapple with the all-too-human desire for ownership—of art, of people, of places, even of stories themselves. Through his worldly male narrators, Theroux explores matters of taste and the compulsion to ruin a possession to mark it as your own. Even when the characters are not wealthy collectors or Andrew Wyeth protégés, they’re often interested in art in some way. The American accountant in Bangkok in “Siamese Nights,” arguably the collection’s standout, is a gifted caricaturist with a vivid appreciation for his unfamiliar surroundings: in the city’s “moisture-thickened air that made you gasp” and “neon lights shimmering in puddles,” he observes, you learn to see “beauty in half an inch of dirty water.” This tale and others—including “Nowadays the Dead Don’t Die,” about the enactment of African funeral rites—contain notes of Theroux’s famed travel writing. Beyond art and travel, Theroux also explores boyhood in the title story; presents a debauched Hawaiian love triangle in “Neighbor Islands”; works a twist on Maupassant’s classic “The Necklace” in “Another Necklace”; and experiments with first-person flash fiction in two steamy interludes, “Voices of Love” and “Long Story Short.” The final product is a hefty, remarkably diverse batch of stories colored by Theroux’s prolific taste for exploration. Agent: Andrew Wylie, Wylie Agency. (Sept.)