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  • The Talented Miss Highsmith

    Wed, 02 Dec 2009 02:01

    Patricia Highsmith, one of the great writers of 20th Century American fiction, "had a life as darkly compelling as that of her favorite 'hero-criminal', talented Tom Ripley. In this revolutionary biography, Joan Schenkar paints a riveting portrait, from Highsmith's birth in Texas to Hitchcock's filming of her first novel, Strangers On a Train, to her long, strange, self-exile in Europe. We see her as a secret writer for the comics, a brilliant creator of disturbing fictions, and erotic predator with dozens of women (and a few good men) on her love list."

    The Talented Miss Highsmith is "the first literary biography with access to Highsmith's whole story: her closest friends, her oeuvre, her archives. It's a compulsive page-turner unlike any other, a book worthy of Highsmith herself."

    Review, below, from the New York Times:

    The photo on the cover of The Talented Miss Highsmith depicts the young, sultry author of Strangers on a Train holding one of her pet cats. There's no question which is the more spookily feline-looking creature.

    Pretty as it is, this picture is hardly representative. As a pet owner Highsmith was much more remarkable for keeping hundreds of snails and for liking to watch those mollusks mate. As a sex object she was far more androgynous in affect than she appears in the photograph. "In Paris restaurants, where French waiters are uncomfortably good at reading gender code, Pat is sometimes directed to the men's lavatory," writes Joan Schenkar, Highsmith's enterprising new biographer. Ms. Schenkar adds: "Pat thought that waiters stopped her 'because I have big feet and skinny thighs.' She had to think something."

    This is no ordinary literary biography. Ms. Schenkar, also a playwright, is not one of those thorough, respectful scholars who let the facts and the literature speak for themselves. Hers is an unusually assertive voice, which makes it well suited to Highsmith (as it was to Dolly Wilde, Oscar's niece, who was the subject of Ms. Schenkar's earlier book, Truly Wilde). Her approach is innovative, sometimes confoundingly so. And her sensibility is sufficiently ghoulish to keep her undaunted by what she calls Highsmith's "hundreds of raspingly acute portraits of quietly transgressive acts," which is a relatively mild way of characterizing the shock value of Highsmith's tirelessly misanthropic work (more...)

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