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The Talented Miss Highsmith: The Secret Life and Serious Art of Patricia Highsmith

Average Rating 3.5
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  • Posted February 14, 2012

    High-Functioning Highsmith

    Many published reviews, including the one in "Kirkus Review," allude to a friend of Highsmith who characterized her as a "high-functioning Asperger's" sufferer. If one sifts through the multi-colored sands of Schenkar's exhaustive, and sometimes convoluted biography, a picture of a profoundly narcissistic personality eventually reveals itself. All those extra colors: her homosexuality, anti-semitism, anorexic tendencies, willful disregards for authority, others feelings, and filial obligations, tend to confuse a reader at first. In sum, though, this was a terribly unpleasant woman endowed with a gift for writing terribly unpleasant, yet entertaining work. Schenkar's writing can be frustratingly tangential, and tends to take flight right when something particularly nasty has arisen, i.e., an allusion to anti-semitism explodes immediately into a history of comic books. Looking at the photos is like seeing the picture of Dorian Gray out of the attic. Highsmith becomes the vision of her self-abnegation and dark outlook: lovely to hideous.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 23, 2010

    A Remarkable Study of a Highly Talented Author by a Remarkably Talented Researcher.

    Patricia Highsmith was an unusual woman and one of our best suspense novelists ever. Unfortunatley this American author was long better recognized and acclaimed in Europe than in her native United States, but happily a resurgance of interest in Highsmith seems underway, helped in part by this in-depth study of a true American "original". While her works that have been translated into highly successful films (Hitchcock's "Strangers on a Train" and a more recent film version of "The Talented Mr. Riply") have helped to fuel something of a cult following, many of her works reflect her Lesbian lifestyle, which for years were therefore considered somewhat taboo among many otherwise would-be readers. This is unfortunate in that Ms. Highsmith was a highly creative writer and a master at crafting hard-to-put-down novels.

    Researcher Joan Sechenker has brilliantly captured Highsmith in all her complexity, aided by a large body of notes and cahiers which she left behind.

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  • Posted March 15, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    I Also Recommend:

    Highsmith Country

    An extraordinary biography of a very strange person. Organized thematically, it ranges over Patricia Highsmith's life without being slavish to chronology. In fact, the author thoughtfully provides a chronological summary to help those who feel a bit lost.

    Every one of the pages of this long book (over 560 pages with appended material) is worth the time. This is not a literary biography in the strict sense, but it explains a good deal about the odd place in the imagination Schenkar calls "Highsmith country" and helps us begin to understand how the odd people we meet in her books got that way.

    There is a great deal of detail about Highsmith's loves, her mixed relationship with her mother, her frugality, her bigotry, and her inability to tolerate ease or comfort in her life. All of this is attested by the material in her "cahiers" as Highsmith called her notebooks. Sometimes Schenkar seems to drift too far from the evidence in her conclusions, but the ideas she presents are entertaining, if speculative.

    Schenkar has no illusions about her subject's questionable hold on humanity, but she makes us feel some sympathy for this intriguing woman.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 15, 2011

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 29, 2011

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