Pulp Fiction Thursday: Patricia Highsmith

I rarely follow-up on the previous week’s pulpilicious post but rules are made to be broken. This week we’ll focus on Scott Timberg’s chat with Sarah Weinman about Patricia Highsmith:

For a lot of readers, the one name they’ll recognize is Patricia Highsmith. Give us a sense of how “The Blunderer” fits into the Highsmith books that people already know — the Ripley novels and “Strangers on a Train.”

It’s a certainly not an anomalous book. I would call it an important book from a transitional standpoint; it was her second crime novel, her first one was “Strangers on a Train.” Her second book was “The Price of Salt” and a new film version is about to come out and I know it’s been getting rave reviews. Then came “The Blunderer,” which I really think has a lot of the seeds for what would develop in “Talented Mr. Ripley” and subsequent Ripley novels and later suspense books like “Deep Water.”

At first it seems like it’s primarily a male narrative, but of course the two men are at odds, and if you even factor in the third man, who is the cop, it really is all about how they are letting themselves be ruled by the kinds of marriage they’ve allowed themselves to be part of. Now, of course we only have the perspective of Walter Stackhouse, to trust or distrust, in terms of how this marriage is going. But clearly, it isn’t going very well if he’s contemplating getting rid of his wife, and the fact that he takes perverse inspiration in this other case and becomes kind of obsessed with the other guy who may or may not have killed his wife. That creates an incredibly strange but highly readable dynamic. Then you throw in this cop and it almost becomes a narrative about police brutality. So, it also kind of weirdly foreshadows some of the conversations we’re having now.

There’s no time like the present to dive into the covers:


Highsmith- Strangers on a TrainHighsmith_Deep_Water_first

We’ll dive a bit deeper into Highsmith’s work after the break. I promise that’s the last time I’ll use the word dive. I should probably skip the Scuba-doo pun but I cannot help myself. Ruh roh.

Like any crime fiction writer worth his or her salt, Highsmith used a pen name on at least one occasion:

Price of Salt

The Price of Salt was apparently largely autobiographical and was published under the name of Claire Morgan because of the prejudice of the day. It’s been made into a movie with Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara and retitled Carol. It’s coming to theatres in November. Here’s hoping that the late writer’s luck with film adaptations of her work holds, which brings me to one final image:


Since Ms. Highsmith was known for her aquatic imagery, here’s a tune from the Bob Dylan of Australia, Mister Paul Kelly: