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Fall Reads: Paul Theroux's "Mr. Bones"

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Japanese artist Motoi Yamamoto tells a story in salt.

In his travel writing, for which he is best known, Paul Theroux eschews the obvious pleasures of the genre for deeper, more acerbic observation. As the writer of more than 25 novels and a half-dozen story collections, he understands the importance of conflict. Few authors are as skilled at both fiction and nonfiction, as well as that particular Theroux specialty: quasi-fiction.

Several of the characters in his terrific new collection, Mr. Bones, are clearly plucked from life—the painter Andrew Wyeth makes an appearance, and two of the stories feature a shoe-salesman dad. (Theroux’s own father plied the trade.) Others, such as a shrewish New England art maven and a bumbling English author, are so incisively carved that figuring out whom they are based on becomes a kind of game.

Theroux’s masterful stories, several of them originally published in The New Yorker, evince a lifetime’s study of human nature around the globe. If they often end in a chilling twist, well, he’s just calling them like he sees them.

Mr. Bones, published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, comes out September 30.


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