The lows of Highsmith

Patricia Highsmith
, my nemesis.

Yes, she did a lovely job with the Ripley books (she's behind "The Talented Mr. Ripley," among others), but I've been burned twice now and I'm done. Done, I say!

I checked out a book of her short stories earlier in the year. They were divided up into sections. The first section was comprised of all of these shorties about animals in human (if I recall correctly) situations where things went badly wrong for no particular reason, after which time the story ended. To wit: Elephant businessman goes to work, gets fired, goes for a drink, meets an ostrich who lures him into a mugging. The End. Again, and again. I tried the rest of the book and it turned out the rest of the stories were much the same.

But I guess I had memory loss. For fifty cents at a used book fair over the weekend I bought "Edith's Diary," a novel by Highsmith. Interesting in a historical sense — she published it in 1977, and it takes place in the late 1950s through early 1970s, an era not always captured via suburbia. It was also interesting to see how much common alcohol consumption there was — everybody was drinking rye or gin or scotch all day it seemed, and beer was considered "low-class." I felt almost like she was trying to imagine what Shirley Jackson's life was like.

In any case: The back of the book promised that Edith, our titular heroine, would move to the suburbs and end up taking care of "drooling Uncle George" and her "sly" son Cliffie (a nickname that should never have existed in this or any other universe) and that the "subtle" end would be malevolent and horrible and "worse" than homicide, or something like that. Along the way she would be writing in her diary and making up a perfect universe in which Cliffie was a good son and George wasn't involved and her husband Brett — not even mentioned on the jacket! — wouldn't leave her for his secretary.

There were bits of that. Very little diary-writing, actually, and in the end nobody reads it but her anyway, so talk about your MacGuffins.

I finished it this morning. And the end was worse than I could have imagined. Because yet again, there was no climax, no denouement of consequence, it just … petered out. And I was left with the same feeling as the elephant stories — namely that something happened while I was watching, and while it was catastrophic, it left me oddly uninterested.

So, this is a bookmark to myself to quit reading Patricia Highsmith. Waste. Of. Time.