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The Poet of Apprehension

The Young Patricia Highsmith

She was a gorgeous Texan from Fort Worth who just happened to be perhaps the best woman mystery novelist of all time. Graham Greene called her “The Poet of Apprehension.” Her novels and stories were unusually dark, beginning with her first novel, Strangers on a Train (1950), which was turned into a film by Alfred Hitchcock. Patricia Highsmith (1921-1995) was depressed and preferred relationships with women. Eventually, the depression dragged her down and destroyed her good looks.

I have just finished reading her novel The Cry of the Owl (1962), one of her darkest novels. Robert, her hero, is a strange kind of asexual Peeping Tom who falls for a young woman by watching her prepare salads and entertain her boyfriend Greg. Things begin to develop dangerously when Jenny, the young woman, ends her relationship with Greg and begins to fall for Robert. There follow two murders, several attempted murders, a suicide, some incredibly sloppy police work, and encounters with the neighbors from hell.

When Greg teams up with Robert’s ex-wife Nickie, they both decide to make life difficult for Robert in every way possible, up to beating him up, wounding him, or killing him.

By the time I finished reading the novel about an hour ago, I began to understand that relationships can go bad at warp speed.

In addition to The Cry of the Owl, I have read the following Highsmith novels and collections, each of which I loved:

  • The Talented Mr. Ripley (1955)
  • A Game for the Living (1958)
  • A Suspension of Mercy (1965) – Released in the U.S. as The Story Teller
  • A Dog’s Ransom (1972)
  • Little Tales of Misogyny (1975)
  • The Black House (1981)

Fortunately, Highsmith was a fairly prolific writer, and I have only just begun to scratch the surface of her work.