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The Selected Stories of Patricia Highsmith


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Patricia Highsmith (1921-1995) was the author of more than twenty novels, including Strangers on a Train, The Price of Salt, The Blunderer and The Talented Mr. Ripley, as well as numerous short stories.


Highsmith's growing posthumous reputation is based on her elegant literary thrillers, which rely on nuanced character study to build tension incrementally, as in Strangers on a Train (1950) or the classic Ripley novels. Highsmith's stories, which are less well known, are mostly nasty, brutish, and short and remarkably effective. Graham Greene calls them "quick kills," and the primary objective seems to be to shock the reader. This selection reprints five collections of short fiction from the 1970s and 1980s. The Animal-Lover's Book of Beastly Murder (1975) is entirely devoted to stories about long-suffering animals who seek revenge on their human tormentors, like the rat who mutilates a sleeping infant or the enraged chickens who escape from an automated hen house. Every story in the aptly titled Little Tales of Misogyny (1977) illustrates an offensive female stereotype, such as "The Breeder," who has so many children that her husband finally goes insane, or "The Perfectionist," who never recovers from an overly ambitious dinner party. When these two collections were first published, their tight thematic organization seemed a bit over the top and probably worked against wide readership. Selected Stories is a big improvement over the original publications in terms of variety and balance, making this the definitive Highsmith story collection. Highly recommended. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 4/15/01.] Edward B. St. John, Loyola Law Sch. Lib., Los Angeles Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.

"For Eliciting the menace that lurks in familiar surroundings, there's no one like Patricia High-smith."

In his foreword to this big posthumous collection, the late Graham Greene deemed the inimitable crime novelist Highsmith (The Talented Mr. Ripley; Strangers on a Train) "the poet of apprehension." Although the short story doesn't allow Texas-born expatriate Highsmith to take menace to the creepy heights achieved in her novels, this volume shows the range and depth of her misanthropy. Divided into sections that sort the cruelty of humans into different guises, the stories range from the abuse and neglect of innocent animals and children (Highsmith demonstrates a tenderness toward innocents that balances and highlights her dark world view) to the stupidity or deadly self-indulgence of different characters including a man who spends his entire life writing novels in his head. The evil that Highsmith probes can be subtle. In "The Network," for example, a middle-aged woman in Manhattan serves as the den mother of city dwellers cleaving together out of a common fear of the dangers of New York. The woman is shown busily spinning a web of fear and bad feeling under the guise of doing good. Other stories are at the opposite end of the subtlety scale. In "Slowly, Slowly in the Wind," a hotheaded tycoon marches inexorably toward a crime laid out in the first pages with the beautiful precision of a place setting by Martha Stewart. As with the productions of that gifted hostess, the thrill here is in the unexpected flourishes. In every story, Highsmith demonstrates her brilliant and inimitable talent for making even the coldest characters galvanizing. Entertaining enough for the beach, this collection should be compulsory for students of the psychological thriller. (Aug.) Forecast: Hefty enough to daunt casual film-influenced readers, this collection will thrill hardcore fans, and should backlist well. Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.

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