Mermaids on the Golf Course: Stories

Overview

The stories collected in Mermaids on the Golf Course, first published in 1985, are among Patricia Highsmith's most mature, psychologically penetrating works. Published in the latter part of her career, these stories reveal Highsmith's mastery of the short story form. Moving between locales as various as France, Mexico, Zurich, and New York, Highsmith transforms the mundane features of everyday life into an eerie setting for her chilling portrayals of violence, secrecy, and madness. In "The Stuff of Madness," ...
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Mermaids on the Golf Course: Stories

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Overview

The stories collected in Mermaids on the Golf Course, first published in 1985, are among Patricia Highsmith's most mature, psychologically penetrating works. Published in the latter part of her career, these stories reveal Highsmith's mastery of the short story form. Moving between locales as various as France, Mexico, Zurich, and New York, Highsmith transforms the mundane features of everyday life into an eerie setting for her chilling portrayals of violence, secrecy, and madness. In "The Stuff of Madness," Christopher Waggoner, increasingly dismayed by his wife's habit of preserving dead pets in their garden, enacts a devious revenge by adding a bizarre new exhibit to their collection; in the title story, an eminent economist's brush with death endows his once-familiar desires with tragic consequences; and in "A Shot from Nowhere," a young painter who witnesses a gruesome death on a vacant Mexican street becomes trapped in an unimaginable nightmare. In these piercing stories, Highsmith creates a world all the more frightening because we recognize it as our own.
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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Fans of Highsmith ( Strangers on a Train , Found in the Street ) will welcome this collection; for others it may be an acquired taste. Among the 11 short stories, ``The Stuff of Madness'' tells of a woman who displays her dead stuffed pets in the garden, and of her husband's final revolt. ``A Clock Ticks at Christmas'' is about the breakup of the marriage between a woman born rich and a man who had to make his money, and their opposite reactions to a theft by two urchins she befriends. In ``The Button,'' a man displaces his rage at his Mongoloid son by killing a stranger. In the title story, a government official injured in an assassination attempt on the President suffers a personality change he is unaware of, although everyone else notices his altered behavior. The art student visiting Mexico in ``A Shot from Nowhere'' sees a young boy killed but can get no one to do anything about it; he is arrested and thrown out of the country with no explanation. More mood pieces and psychological studies than nicely plotted stories, these tales are depressing and downbeat, albeit very well written. ( October
Library Journal
Speaking of good stuff, this novel and short story collection are from one of mystery's best. Both Deep Water (1957) and Mermaids (1970) feature Highsmith's expert use of ordinary people and everyday settings that turn foul, making them all the more sinister. Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Boston Globe
“An atmosphere of nameless dread, of unspeakable foreboding, permeates every page of Patricia Highsmith, and there's nothing quite like it.”
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780892963584
  • Publisher: Grand Central Publishing
  • Publication date: 11/28/1988
  • Pages: 240

Meet the Author

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

Biography

Suspense novels are often described as "chilling," but no one turns down the reader's emotional thermostat quite like Patricia Highsmith, author of such haunting psychological thrillers as Strangers on a Train and creator of the sociopathic series protagonist Tom Ripley. During her life, Highsmith was a popular author in Europe, where she lived; in her native United States, however, her books went sporadically in and out of print for decades. Now, the writer whom Graham Greene called "the poet of apprehension" has finally gained recognition in the States -- not only as a master of the suspense genre, but as a literary author of rare talent.

Highsmith grew up in Texas and New York, but spent most of her adult life in England, France and Switzerland. By most accounts she was a loner who avoided other people, including other writers; but she did have early help in her career from Truman Capote, who got her a stint at the Yaddo writers' colony in New York. Her first novel, Strangers on a Train, tells the story of an architect and a psychopath who meet on a train and "swap" murders. The book gained Highsmith considerable fame, especially after it was made into a film by Alfred Hitchcock. A second novel, The Price of Salt, was printed under a pseudonym after her first publishers turned it down. Though her subsequent works didn't sell well in her home country, she kept turning out the kinds of novels and short stories the New Yorker called "bad dreams that keep us thrashing for the rest of the night."

Several movies have been loosely based on Highsmith's books, including Danny DeVito's Hitchcock spoof Throw Momma From the Train; Wim Wenders' The American Friend, adapted from Ripley's Game; and Purple Noon, a French film based on The Talented Mr. Ripley. But it was Academy Award-winning director Anthony Minghella's lush screen adaptation of The Talented Mr. Ripley, released four years after Highsmith's death and 44 years after the book's publication, that introduced Highsmith to a wider audience and led to a rediscovery of her works.

Subtle enough for a seminar yet entertaining enough for the beach, Highsmith's coolly narrated tales of terror display an observant eye for social behavior as well as individual psychology. Most books in the suspense genre provide a hero whose fundamental honesty and decency stand as bulwarks against the evil he or she confronts. But in a Highsmith novel, the reader is alone with victim and victimizer -- and an unsettling sense of empathy with both.

As Francis Wyndham has noted, Highsmith's "peculiar brand of horror comes less from the inevitability of disaster, than from the ease with which it might have been avoided. The evil of her agents is answered by the impotence of her patients -- this is not the attraction of opposites, but in some subtle way the call of like to like. When they finally clash in the climactic catastrophe, the reader's sense of satisfaction may derive from sources as dark as those which motivate Patricia Highsmith's destroyers and their fascinated victims."

Good To Know

Patricia Highsmith was born Mary Patricia Plangman; her parents divorced soon after she was born, however, and she was given her stepfather's last name. After Highsmith graduated from college, she lived for a time with her mother and stepfather in Greenwich Village, where she wrote comic books to support herself, including scripts for the Superman series.

A lesbian herself, Highsmith is thought to have written the first American novel in which a homosexual love story has a happy ending. The novel, The Price of Salt, was published under the pseudonym Claire Morgan; it was reissued in 1984 (as Carol), but didn't appear under the writer's real name until 1991.

Highsmith once told an interviewer that the only suspense writer she read was the master -- Dostoevsky, over and over. In her book Plotting and Writing Suspense Fiction, she wrote, "I think most of Dostoyevsky's books would be called suspense books, were they being published today for the first time. But he would be asked to cut, because of production costs."

The premise of The Talented Mr. Ripley was inspired by Henry James's The Ambassadors, in which a widow sends her fiance from America to Paris to fetch her wayward son.

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    1. Also Known As:
      Mary Patricia Plangman (birth name); Claire Morgan (pen name)
    1. Date of Birth:
      January 19, 1921
    2. Place of Birth:
      Fort Worth, Texas
    1. Date of Death:
      February 4, 1995
    2. Place of Death:
      Locarno, Switzerland

Table of Contents

Mermaids on the Golf Course 11
The Button 27
Where the Action Is 49
Chris's Last Party 69
A Clock Ticks at Christmas 97
A Shot from Nowhere 117
The Stuff of Madness 143
Not in This Life, Maybe the Next 161
I Am Not As Efficient As Other People 181
The Cruelest Month 199
The Romantic 221
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