From Publishers Weekly
Author and playwright Schenkar (Truly Wilde
) presents a compelling portrait of suspense novelist Patricia Highsmith (1921–1995), whose own life was often as twisted as that of her antihero Tom Ripley. Dispensing with the traditional chronological narrative, Schenkar divides her study into themed sections, which crisscross and mirror each other, embodying the themes of doubling and alter egos in Highsmith's work and life. From her early years in Texas through her time soaking up Manhattan's literary life in the '40s to her self-exile in Europe, Highsmith kept diaries in which she meticulously detailed everything from her myriad female lovers to plot ideas. Pessimistic, alcoholic and chronically unhappy, Highsmith created some of the most chilling tales of psychological suspense and betrayal, including The Talented Mr. Ripley
and its sequels, and Strangers on a Train
. Schenkar's research is impeccable, and she makes excellent use of the voluminous Highsmith archives in Switzerland and interviews with Highsmith's friends, ex-lovers and literary contemporaries. Perversion, Highsmith once said, interests me most and is my guiding darkness, and Schenkar illuminates how her demons played out on the page and in real life. 16 pages of b&w photos. (Dec.)
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Highsmith is best known for Strangers on a Train (1950) and her Ripley series, which begins with The Talented Mr. Ripley (1955). Schenkar’s fascinating biography portrays Highsmith as driven by obsessions, especially her love-hate relationship with her mother, and a yin-yang ambivalence that became a central main theme in her writings, which also evinced the fast-moving action she developed while writing comic books in her twenties. The Highsmith Country she created was filled with “the constant shifting of identities,” both inward and outward, “that created the consistency, the fierce peculiarity, the weird, graveled originality of her work.” The author of a pseudonymous landmark lesbian novel The Price of Salt (1951), Highsmith was a femme fatale whose same-sex affairs spanned the Atlantic Ocean, a series of sudden, wild passions, another signature theme in her fiction. The catalyst for Schenkar’s exhaustive, compelling work, which boasts copious end notes, maps, charts, diagrams, bibliography, and chronology, was the recent unearthing of 8,000 pages of Highsmith’s secret journals. The result is an essential scholarly, lesbian, and literary biography. --Whitney Scott