Up Above the World

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First edition (publ. Simon & Schuster)

Up Above the World is a novel by Paul Bowles first published in 1966 about an American couple—an aging physician and his young attractive wife—who go on a tour of Central America and are trapped by a mysterious young man whose motives remain unclear to them.

Plot summary[edit]

In the middle of their journey Dr Slade and his wife have a chance encounter with an important looking lady who tells them that she is going to visit her son. Arriving by ship at a provincial town in an unnamed Latin American country, they find that accommodation is sparse, and so Mrs Slade agrees to share a room with her at some seedy hotel for just one night. During that night, the lady is murdered with an injection of curare, but when the Slades leave very early the next morning to catch a connection, Mrs Slade erroneously believes the woman lying next to her is still fast asleep.

A few days later, in another town, they read in the paper that the hotel burned down immediately after they had left and that the woman died in the fire. No one suspects the real reason, arson, which was committed to cover up the murder. This is when Dr and Mrs Slade make the acquaintance of Grove Soto, a charming and seemingly rich young man who offers them his hospitality. When it turns out that the recently deceased woman was his mother and Soto feigns shock at her premature death, the Americans have no idea that it was actually him who had her killed out of greed.

As Soto cannot be certain about Mrs Slade's complete ignorance of the crime, he extends his hospitality, invites them to his farm in the country and eggs them on to stay there longer than they have planned. At the same time, with the help of both his local household staff and his seventeen-year-old Cuban lover Luchita, he feeds them a cocktail of drugs whose effects, including partial amnesia, the innocent Americans mistake for the symptoms of a heavy virus infection, recovery from which is supposedly slow.

In the end Dr Slade, who has been barely conscious for days, disappears, while his young wife suspects more and more sinister forces to be at work. She escapes to the nearest town, where a fiesta is being held, only to realize that Soto has also planned her very escape. Without seeing her husband again, she has to face both her adversary and her own destiny amid the cheering townspeople.

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