Paul Bowles, 88, one of the last American expatriate authors, in whose existential stories arid topography became the backdrop to tales about a brutal and threatening world, died Nov. 18 at a hospital in Morocco after a heart attack.

The Modern Library named his 1949 bestseller, "The Sheltering Sky," Mr. Bowles's first, as one of the century's 100 greatest English language books.

Since the late 1940s, he had all but renounced the United States, embracing what he considered the sexually, socially and culturally liberating environment of Morocco. He chose that North African country after meeting writer Gertrude Stein, who in the early 1930s advised him, "Anybody can go to the Riviera."

Morocco was a perfect match for Mr. Bowles, who considered the country inexhaustibly mysterious. "I relish the idea that in the night, all around me in my sleep, sorcery is burrowing its invisible tunnels in every direction," Mr. Bowles wrote in his 1972 autobiography, "Without Stopping." "Souls are being dispossessed of parasitic pseudo-consciousnesses that lurk in the unguarded recesses of the mind."

His fiction, however, frequently used the North African landscape to depict his characters' eventual discovery that their quest for freedom and truth was, in fact, their doom.

In "The Sheltering Sky," two married New York intellectuals trek across the Sahara to seek solace in their relationship, only to let their primitive impulses devastate them. He dies, and she loses her mind.

Bernardo Bertolucci filmed the book in 1990, with John Malkovich and Debra Winger playing the protagonists, Port and Kit Moresby, and a narrative voice-over by Mr. Bowles.

In "The Delicate Prey," a 1951 horror-story collection, his tale "A Distant Episode" features an American professor who is beaten and has his tongue slashed off while visiting North Africa; he then is sold to Arabs. Another piece features a person buried alive, a plot turn similar to that of his early idol, Edgar Allan Poe.

Mr. Bowles disdained plot or thematic analysis of his work, preferring attention be paid to his style. "People who want an [analytic] answer are the ones that believe in progress -- onward and upward! But there is no progress and there is no answer, of course," he told The Washington Post in 1995.

Mr. Bowles was equally well known for his less-than-conventional lifestyle. In 1938, he married the writer Jane Auer Bowles, and they developed the understanding that both were free to pursue same-sex relationships.

He always considered his wife his intellectual equal and cared for her after she suffered a debilitating stroke in 1957 and until her death in 1973.

Mr. Bowles was born in New York and grew up in a Long Island suburban development he detested. He recalled his father as an artistically frustrated and "hypochondriacal" dentist.

Mr. Bowles briefly attended art school and then the University of Virginia before moving to Europe. "I wanted to get away, and I wanted to get to Paris, which I thought was the center of the world," he said.

A published poet as a teenager, Mr. Bowles started composing music. In the 1930s, he studied with Aaron Copland and Virgil Thompson and wrote music for Orson Welles's theater productions. From 1942 to 1945, he was a music critic for the New York Herald-Tribune.

Mr. Bowles also composed incidental music for Broadway shows, such as Tennessee Williams's dramas "The Glass Menagerie" in 1944 and "Summer and Smoke" in 1948.

He also contributed music to a 1947 Man Ray film, "Dreams That Money Can Buy," and had composed music for 10 productions at the American School of Tangier since 1966.

After writing several books and story collections in the 1950s, including "Let It Come Down" and "The Spider's House," Mr. Bowles spent the following decade translating Moroccan authors into English. His own books were republished in the 1970s and 1980s, but the pinnacle of his "rediscovery" was the film translation of his first book.

In 1995, an anthology of his prose and photographs was published, called "Too Far From Home." A film documentary, "Paul Bowles: The Complete Outsider," was made in 1994.

He leaves no immediate survivors.