Cover image for Mr. Bones twenty stories
Mr. Bones twenty stories
Theroux, Paul.
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Short stories. Selections
Publication Information:
[Minneapolis, MN] : Highbridge Co., [2014]
Physical Description:
11 audio discs (13.25 hr.) : digital ; 4 3/4 in.
A family watches in horror as their patriarch transforms into the singing, wise-cracking lead of an old-timey minstrel show. A renowned art collector publicly destroys his most valuable pieces. Two boys stand by helplessly as their father stages a war on the raccoons living in the woods around their house. In a collection of short stories, the author explores the leadership of the elite and the revenge of the overlooked. He shows humanity possessed, consumed by its own desire and compulsion.
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Duration: 13:15:00.
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Audiobook on CD


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A family watches in horror as their patriarch transforms into the singing, wise-cracking lead of an old-timey minstrel show. A renowned art collector relishes publicly destroying his most valuable pieces. Two boys stand by helplessly as their father stages an all-consuming war on the raccoons living in the woods around their house. A young artist devotes himself to a wealthy, malicious gossip, knowing that it's just a matter of time before she turns on him. In this new collection of short stories, acclaimed author Paul Theroux explores the tenuous leadership of the elite and the surprising revenge of the overlooked. He shows us humanity possessed, consumed by its own desire and compulsion, always with his carefully honed eye for detail and the subtle idiosyncrasies that bring his characters to life. Searing, dark, and sure to unsettle, Mr. Bones is a stunning new display of Paul Theroux's �fluent, faintly sinister powers of vision and imagination� (John Updike, The New Yorker).

Author Notes

Paul Edward Theroux was born on April 10, 1941 in Medford, Massachusetts and is an acclaimed travel writer. After attending the University of Massachusetts Amherst he joined the Peace Corps and taught in Malawi from 1963 to 1965. He also taught in Uganda at Makerere University and in Singapore at the University of Singapore.

Although Theroux has also written travel books in general and about various modes of transport, his name is synonymous with the literature of train travel. Theroux's 1975 best-seller, The Great Railway Bazaar, takes the reader through Asia, while his second book about train travel, The Old Patagonian Express (1979), describes his trip from Boston to the tip of South America. His third contribution to the railway travel genre, Riding the Iron Rooster: By Train Through China, won the Thomas Cook Prize for best literary travel book in 1989. His literary output also includes novels, books for children, short stories, articles, and poetry. His novels include Picture Palace (1978), which won the Whitbread Award and The Mosquito Coast (1981), which won the James Tait Black Memorial Prize. Theroux is a fellow of both the British Royal Society of Literature and the Royal Geographic Society. His title Lower River made The New York Times Best Seller List for 2012. Currently his 2015 book, Deep South , is a bestseller.

(Bowker Author Biography) Paul Theroux is the distinguished author of numerous award-winning books, including "The Mosquito Coast," "Kowloon Tong," & "Half Moon Street."

(Publisher Provided)

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

Not particually well known as a short story writer, esteemed novelist and travel writer Theroux nevertheless has seen many of his stories eagerly received by periodical editors. Indeed, a sizable number of the stories in his latest compilation were published previously in such distinguished places as the New Yorker and the Atlantic. A warning to short story aficionados is in order, though. They should not expect the usual warmth that commonly emanates from contemporary short fiction, which is a by-product of the ground-level exploration of ordinary lives that today's short fiction generally represents. His short fiction is remote, dealing with themes that, yes, more or less have contemporary relevance but are featured in plots that don't speak to most readers. Minor Watt, at 33 pages, appears first in the collection, and with an Edgar Allan Poe-like tone, Theroux follows the bizarre turnabout of a wealthy collector of artworks who suddenly, with the same passion, begins destroying pieces in his collection one by one. Although Theroux does make this character psychologically understandable, he remains outside the real experiences of most of us. A shorter piece, The Furies, is about a dentist who forsakes his wife to take up with his hygienist; despite some flashes of real in how the author sees the main character and the choices he's making, this story, too, floats above a flesh-and-blood tangibility. High-Demand Backstory: The author's big name as a novelist and travel writer will naturally attract readers to his new book; readers may bring it back to the library unfinished, given the challenge many readers see in the short story form.--Hooper, Brad Copyright 2010 Booklist

Publisher's Weekly Review

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 proteges, 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.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.

Library Journal Review

Without slipping overtly into the realm of "men's lit," Theroux's fiction often grapples with the concept of manhood, with its focus on issues of power, pride, and obsession. The stories in this collection are varied, and some are rich in the details of exotic places, as befits this renowned travel writer; all are highly entertaining-a couple are award winners-with the plot twists and sometimes startling resolutions that mark the best of the short story genre. In one gem, a fabulously wealthy man sets about to systematically destroy the rare artifacts in his art collection; with escalating hubris, he contemplates murdering his exotic girlfriend, whom he treats as a possession, but instead finds the limits of his power. In the titular story, a henpecked husband asserts his position in the family by transforming himself into the minstrel show character he's portraying in a charity performance. A longer piece, in which a conservative accountant working in Bangkok becomes emotionally involved with a "ladyboy," is a study in sexual obsession. VERDICT This excellent new collection allows readers to sample an array of -Theroux's most entertaining fiction in short story form; highly recommended.-Reba Leiding, emeritus, James Madison Univ. Lib., Harrisonburg, VA (c) Copyright 2014. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.



Minor Watt Minor Watt, the real estate developer and art collector, was seated at the Jacobean dining table with the fat baluster legs that served as his desk, waiting for his wife--soon to be ex-wife--to arrive. He had been thinking of himself, but the graceful Chinese vase with a tall flared neck, resting on the antique table, made him reflect that, as with so many things he owned--perhaps all of them--he was able to discern its inner meaning in its subtle underglaze, the circumstances of his acquiring it, its price of course, its provenance, all the hands that had touched it and yet left it undamaged, its relation to his own life, its secret history, its human dimension, almost as though this pale porcelain with the tracery of a red peony scroll was human flesh. And then after this flicker of distraction he thought of himself again. How people said, "You're the calmest man in the world." He always replied, "As I made more money my jokes got funnier." And when they laughed, he added, "And I got better-looking." "You're amazing," they said, and with a glance at his collection--the Noland painting Lunar Whirl on the wall behind him, the objects glinting on side tables and shelves and in the glass cabinet. Was that a human skull? "And my collection got more valuable." "One of a kind," they said. The only gift anyone can make to a much wealthier person is an extravagant compliment, often in the circumstances the opposite of what the poorer person feels, yet inevitably with a grain of truth and a stammer of ambiguity. The visible fact of his wealth, Minor Watt knew--his collection like a set of trophies--made these people at times incoherent and yet obvious. Instead of "He has this great thing," they thought, "I don't have this great thing." He lifted his gaze to the works arrayed in his office, a sampling of his areas of collecting: the Noland, a Khmer head of Vishnu in stone, a Chola bronze Shiva Nataraj, an old Dan mask with red everted lips, and a squat Luba fetish figure bristling with rusty nails; a greenish celadon salver propped on a stand, a massive Marquesan u'u club with small skull-shaped bas-reliefs for eyes, and beside it, like an echo, an Asmat skull. More human skulls were ranged on a backlit shelf. Among collectors of tribal art, skulls constituted a silent trade, and they were an early and lasting passion with Minor Watt: New Guinea ancestor skulls with cowries lodged in the eye sockets and others overmodeled with clay and painted like masks, some of them shiny from use as headrests, like large chestnuts, the same rich color; Kenyah skulls from Sarawak scratched with scrimshaw lizards on the cranial dome; smoke-dark Ifugao enemy skulls sitting side by side on a smoky plank; Tibetan skulls and skull cups, chased in silver; and more, all of them saturated with mana. No one said "One of a kind" with surprise. Minor Watt had grown prosperous in the roofing business in New York, city of flat roofs. "A flat roof is designed to leak," he said, and his familiarity with the bones of these buildings led him to speculate successfully in real estate. From the age of thirty or so, Minor Watt had had everything he'd ever wanted, every dollar, every woman, every serious business deal, every artifact--his eye fell upon a standing bodhisattva, a mustached Maitreya from Gandhara carved in schist, second century, Kushan period, clutching a plump vial that contained the elixir of immortality. A duplex on Park Avenue, a house by the sea in Connecticut, with a set of buildings that served as his personal museum. A loving wife--where was she? His artworks were not for warehousing but for display--showing them was his incentive to collecting. He'd loved taking his wife to the opera, Inca gold glittering at her throat. Even more than the joy that drove his collecting passion was the knowledge that in buying a rare object he had prevented someone else from owning it. Another pleasure in his collection was his certainty that, even as he was examining a piece, its value was rising, no matter what the stock market was doing. He had bought a small Bacon in London--a head of George Dyer. Over the years its value had increased two hundred-fold. Those human skulls: if similar ones could be found, which was doubtful, they'd cost twenty times what he'd paid. One of the paradoxes of the people who praised these objects was that in most cases they had no idea what they were looking at. At first Minor Watt's pride made this almost a sorrow to him; and then, out of snobbery, such ignorant remarks delighted him. "I love this African stuff," someone would say, smiling at a fierce-faced Timor house post. The Gandharan piece from the Swat Valley was taken to be Greek. "Byzantine," an art historian said of an eighteenth-century Lalibela painting of the Ethiopian saint Gabbra Menfes Qeddus. His old cartoonish reverse-glass paintings done by itinerant Chinese in Gujarat baffled all viewers. "Indonesia? Bali?" A bulb-headed Fijian throwing club known as an ulu was assumed to be a Zulu knobkerrie, and no one ever noticed that the ivory inserts on its lobes were human molars, from its five victims. And which of them would know that this Chinese vase was Ming? Minor Watt and his wife had bought it together after much discussion in Shanghai, after a Yangtze cruise in 1980, and had hand-carried it back to the States. The vase, treasured, as all these objects were, like members of their family, had accompanied them through six changes of address. As though demanding custody, she'd included it as part of the divorce settlement. Had she noticed it glowing in the display cabinet on her previous visit with her lawyer? Thinking of the woman, he heard his intercom buzz, and then his secretary's voice: "Your wife is here." Already it was an odd word, since they'd agreed to the divorce months before and had now signed most of the papers. In mentally moving her out of his life he was reminded of his mood when he sent a piece to be auctioned, how he had no feeling for it; even though it still had monetary value, it was dumb and mummified, and, the thing having lost all meaning and hope, he smiled as he let it slip away. He had wondered which woman would show up--the angry woman, the sad woman, the wild-eyed woman, the oversensitive woman, the rejected one, the triumphant one, the sulker, the smirker, the old friend. She was none of these when she entered the room. She looked thinner--all the fury was gone, leaving her pinched, the anger wrung out of her. Such corrosive emotion was unsustainable over so many months: she looked cured of an illness, weaker, subdued, much paler. The fighting had ended, and now, like people who knew each other far too well, they were rueful with disillusionment, meeting merely to observe a few formalities, wishing they were strangers. "Hello, Minor." She spoke in the spongy voice of languor and abandonment, and her eyes were drawn to the vase. She was here to pick up the valuable old keepsake and then to go. She had been reluctant to come. He had told her it was too fragile to risk mailing, but this was turning into a formal ritual of farewell. He would pass her this lovely vase and she'd carry it away in its cushioned box--the Chinese purpose-built cushioned coffin with the sliding lid and the rope-like handle--carry it as they had done more than twenty years ago in what had been one of their many treasure hunts, but an important one: he'd also been an early investor in the Chinese economic miracle. "Sunny." Her name was Sonia. She sat down in the antique Savonarola-style chair, in the same knees-together posture, as she had done many times, but this was perhaps the last time--not perhaps. It was all at an end, a true breakup. No more wifehood for her--she'd probably never remarry and forfeit the alimony. He smiled thinking of his rich pretense of complaining about money, knowing in his heart that money never mattered, because there was always money; but such a vase as this was, even as the philistines guessed, one of a kind. It was promised to Sonia, and yet he could not see beyond the finality of this handover to any future for himself. She hadn't been a trophy wife: he had loved her, she had been part of his great luck and his achievement, and he had educated her in appreciating his vast art collection. Now she knew what a Scythian chariot finial was, and she knew why this Ming vase was precious for its copper-red underglaze, so fragile and yet unmarked. Knowing his collection this well, she was the only person who truly knew him. "I can't stay long." Saying this, still looking at the vase, it seemed that she had moved on, and she had the unimpressed body-snatched look of a woman who was perhaps newly involved with another man. Excerpted from Mr. Bones: Twenty Stories by Paul Theroux All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.