By comparing the work of Cormac McCarthy, Don Waters, and Paul Bowles, I will show similarities that might be recognized as constitutive of a subgenre of the Gothic, the “Desert Gothic.” In Paul Bowles's 1947 story “A Distant Episode,” a professor of linguistics is captured and cruelly tortured by the Reguibat in Morocco. The story is set against the ruins of a marabout (shrine or tomb) silhouetted in the desert night rank with foetid smells and mystery. McCarthy's West is likewise full of strange ruins and deserted churches, and the violence in the fiction can be extreme and often shocking. Inscrutable and hooded figures abound in the work of both authors, and the supernatural shimmers in and out of view. The desert makes monsters of men in the Saharan as it does in the Chihuahan. Don Waters's collection of short stories entitled “Desert Gothic” has already laid out the literary ground. Waters replaces the European Gothic of the pre-modernist churchyard with the postmodern Gothic of the swiftly crumbling roadside memorial, complete with curled photograph, decaying flowers, and a fading, poorly spelled letter. This article is a first step toward offering a critical definition of the Desert Gothic.

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