three-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
10-May-June-2004
By: 
Paul Theroux
user_rating: 
0

A-StrangerPalazzoIn this collection of one novella and six stories, travel writer Theroux maps out the human heart in the 1950s and '60s. The title novella features an aging man who returns to Italy and repeats an old affair, this time not with an older woman, but with a young Serbian girl. In "African Story" a white South African farmer becomes besotted with a maimed black schoolteacher, with disastrous results. And in "Disheveled Nymphs" a retired lawyer in Hawaii stalks his cleaning woman and her daughter to Las Vegas. All of the stories take us on mental and geographical journeys, with erotic detours into sex, love, and loneliness along the way.
Houghton Mifflin. 296 pages. $25.

Boston Herald 4 of 5 Stars
"Good fiction - like the most memorable journeys, involves unexpected detours. For armchair adventuring, The Stranger at the Palazzo d'Oro is golden." Judith Wynn

Providence Journal 4 of 5 Stars
"Theroux uses his precise, realistic style like a scalpel, slicing into the skins of his fictions, clinically questing for luminous details and images with their glimpses of betrayal, domination and submission, the sexual power plays of human existence. ... The opening novella, from which the collection takes its title, is probably the most illuminating and disturbing." Sam Coale

Seattle Times 4 of 5 Stars
"In both the fever of its erotic maneuverings and the brazen artifice of its narrative structure, Stranger is a beguilingly perverse piece of work. ... This collection, while reminding us what a wide net Theroux casts out across the world in order to reel in his tales, also confirms something more basic: that Theroux, especially in the shorter format of the novella, is a remarkable storyteller." Michael Upchurch

SF Chronicle 3.5 of 5 Stars
"As always, his ear for dialogue is pitch perfect, and his fluid prose lusciously evokes everything. ... Readers can be grateful that Theroux has once again channeled some of his secrets, sexual energy and sensibility, complete with his signature 'rosy- hued lechery', into yet another stimulating volume in his impressive canon." Heller McAlpin

Washington Post 3 of 5 Stars
""The author's desire to be explicit in explaining the [title] story leads his prose promiscuously to overrun. ... However, such writing points toward Theroux's great strength as a writer: his ability to evoke the physical, the sensual." Stephen Abell

Pittsburgh Post-Gaz 1.5 of 5 Stars
"There's a certain soft-core element in each of these pieces, one that might work in highlighting a piece but feels hollow as the main plot device. ... Overall, though, these stories feel jaded and melancholy, as if meeting strangers will inevitably prove disappointing." Sharon Dilworth

NY Times 1 of 5 Stars
"While there are moments in these stories that possess the intimacy of Mr. Theroux's powerful 1989 novel, My Secret History, this volume as a whole has a hasty, self-conscious air to it, a tendency to turn subsidiary characters, particularly the women, into predictable and unsympathetic stereotypes, and a penchant for substituting cheap, sensationalistic set pieces for purposeful, revelatory storytelling." Michiko Kakutani

Critical Summary

Fans of Theroux's previous 24 books will be no strangers to the sex, suspense, and eroticism peppered throughout this collection. As middle age passes him by, Theroux seems ever more fascinated by men's obvious weaknesses, displayed here in all their follies. Critics suggest an autobiographical element to these stories, which draw inspiration from familiar Therouxian territory. His stylistic range is amazing, and, as always, he writes pitch-perfect dialogue. It's the stories that raise questions. Some critics loved the title novella; others disliked its cloying sexual details. The other stories fared better. It's an uneven collection, but many readers will find some strange sort of solace in these odd, often beautifully rendered, pieces.