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Nothing That Meets the Eye: The Uncollected Stories of Patricia Highsmith

Overview

"Highsmith is no more a practitioner of the murder mystery genre...than are Doestoevsky, Faulkner and Camus."—Joan Smith, Los Angeles Times
The Patricia Highsmith renaissance continues with Nothing That Meets the Eye, a brilliant collection of twenty-eight psychologically penetrating stories, a great majority of which are published for the first time in this collection.
This volume spans almost fifty years of Highsmith's career and establishes her as a permanent member of our ...

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Nothing That Meets the Eye: The Uncollected Stories of Patricia Highsmith

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Overview

"Highsmith is no more a practitioner of the murder mystery genre...than are Doestoevsky, Faulkner and Camus."—Joan Smith, Los Angeles Times
The Patricia Highsmith renaissance continues with Nothing That Meets the Eye, a brilliant collection of twenty-eight psychologically penetrating stories, a great majority of which are published for the first time in this collection.
This volume spans almost fifty years of Highsmith's career and establishes her as a permanent member of our American literary canon, as attested by recent publication of two of these stories in The New Yorker and Harper's. The stories assembled in Nothing That Meets the Eye, written between 1938 and 1982, are vintage Highsmith: a gigolo-like psychopath preys on unfulfilled career women; a lonely spinster's fragile hold on reality is tethered to the bottle; an estranged postal worker invents homicidal fantasies about his coworkers. While some stories anticipate the diabolical narratives of the Ripley novels, others possess a Capra-like sweetness that forces us to see the author in a new light. From this new collection, a remarkable portrait of the American psyche at mid-century emerges, unforgettably distilled by the inimitable eye of Patricia Highsmith. A New York Times Notable Book and a Washington Post Rave of 2002.

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Editorial Reviews

New York Times
Almost every piece...contains touches that reveal what a subtle writer Highsmith was.— James Campbell
Boston Globe
A thrilling compendium of work full of surprises.— Ed Siegel
Washington Post
One of the exhilarating effects of reading Highsmith's stories...is the greatly enlarged sense of her range and energy...in their surehandedness, their amazing breadth and abundance...[these stories] compel attention and they add significantly to her already formidable presence.— James Lasdun
James Campbell - New York Times
“Almost every piece...contains touches that reveal what a subtle writer Highsmith was.”
Ed Siegel - Boston Globe
“A thrilling compendium of work full of surprises.”
James Lasdun - Washington Post
“One of the exhilarating effects of reading Highsmith's stories...is the greatly enlarged sense of her range and energy...in their surehandedness, their amazing breadth and abundance...[these stories] compel attention and they add significantly to her already formidable presence.”
Publishers Weekly
Following on the heels of The Selected Stories of Patricia Highsmith (2001) comes Nothing That Meets the Eye: The Uncollected Stories of Patricia Highsmith, with an afterword by Paul Ingendaay and notes on the stories by Anna von Planta. Most of these 28 tales, which Highsmith (1921-1995) wrote between 1938 and 1982, are previously unpublished.
Library Journal
The late, prolific Highsmith is best known to readers for the canny, resourceful, elegant, and amoral Mr. Ripley (from her books; forget the movie please!). And, to writers, for her elegant, crafted prose. The novel form aside, the short story might be her best medium, riveting attention on her twists (plot and psychological), her use of language, and her experiments with viewpoint. Of the 28 stories collected here, many were previously published, but none are readily available. Those in the first section (to 1948) show a surprising attention to women's viewpoints and a developing sense of the illuminative power of a single moment, as in "The Still Point of the Turning World." The second section (from 1952 on) is more male-dominated and characteristic, and the best stories here (like "A Girl Like Phyl" where the illumination is ironic and shatters a life) could really be said to burn with Pater's "hard, gemlike flame." Remarkable; highly recommended. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 6/15/02.] Robert E. Brown, Minoa Lib., NY Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Following on the heels of The Collected Stories of Patricia Highsmith (2001), this gathering will be a revelation to readers who've bracketed Highsmith (1921-95) purely as a psychological suspense novelist, or indeed as a novelist. Though she did not publish her first volume of stories until 20 years after her groundbreaking first novel, Strangers on a Train (1950), Highsmith considered the short story, like poetry, a necessary discipline for her writing and returned to the form constantly. Another revelation is provided by the division of these 28 tales-about half the author's previously uncollected short fiction-into early and late (basically, pre- and post-Strangers). Early stories like "The Still Point of the Turning World" and "Doorbell for Louisa," often focusing, as Paul Irgendaay's afterword points out, on faded females, are more interested in focusing a mood or zone of consciousness than unfolding a narrative. The later stories feature more familiar Highsmith types-men like the petty thief in "A Dangerous Hobby" and the haunted divorcé in "The Second Cigarette" whose hollow lives are exposed by insolent chance. What remains constant throughout is life's shocking arbitrariness, which renders even the rare happy endings of stories like "A Bird in Hand" (whose hero passes off store-bought birds as duplicates of families' beloved pets) and "Born Failure" (whose sad-sack hero discovers his happiness by messing up his one piece of good fortune) as depressing in their own way as the suicides that more frequently provide her endings. One final revelation is how keen a judge Highsmith was of her work. With a few exceptions like "The Trouble with Mrs. Blynn, the Trouble with the World" and"A Girl Like Phyl," which cram a life's worth of devastation into a few pages, these stories are a cut below the seven volumes she collected herself. Valuable for the light it sheds on its creator, then, but not a collection that will enlarge Highsmith's formidable reputation.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780393325003
  • Publisher: Norton, W. W. & Company, Inc.
  • Publication date: 11/1/2003
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 466
  • Sales rank: 1,205,042
  • Product dimensions: 5.50 (w) x 8.20 (h) x 1.30 (d)

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

Read an Excerpt

Nothing That Meets the Eye

The Uncollected Stories of Patricia Highsmith
By Patricia Highsmith

W. W. Norton & Company

Copyright © 2001 The Estate of Patricia Highsmith
All right reserved.

ISBN: 0393051870


Chapter One

There are lots of girls like Mildred, homeless, yet never without a roof-most of the time the ceiling of a hotel room, sometimes that of bachelor digs, of a yacht's cabin if they're lucky, a tent, or a caravan. Such girls are bed-objects, the kind of thing one acquires like a hot water bottle, a traveling iron, an electric shoe-shiner, any little luxury of life. It is an advantage to them if they can cook a bit, but they certainly don't have to talk, in any language. Also they are interchangeable, like unblocked currency or international postal reply coupons. Their value can go up or down, depending on their age and the man currently in possession.

Mildred considered it not a bad life, and if interviewed would have said in her earnest way, "It's interesting." Mildred never laughed, and smiled only when she thought she should be polite. She was five feet seven, blondish, rather slender, with a pleasant blank face and large blue eyes which she held wide open. She slunk rather than walked, her shoulders hunched, hips thrust a bit forward-the way the best models walked, she had read somewhere. This gave her a languid, pacific air. Ambulant, she looked as if she were walking in hersleep. She was a little more lively in bed, and this fact traveled by word of mouth, or among men who might not speak the same tongue, by nods or small smiles. Mildred knew her job, and it must be said for her that she applied herself diligently to it.

She had floundered around in school till fourteen, when everyone including her parents had deemed it senseless for her to continue. She would marry early, her parents thought. Instead, Mildred ran away from home, or rather was taken away by a car salesman when she was barely fifteen. Under the salesman's direction, she wrote reassuring letters home, saying she had a job in a nearby town as a waitress and was living in a flat with two other girls.

By the time she was eighteen, Mildred had been to Capri, Mexico City, Paris, even Japan, and to Brazil several times, where men usually dumped her, since they were often on the run from something. She had been a second prize, as it were, for one American President-elect the night of his victory. She had been lent for two days to a sheik in London, who had rewarded her with a rather kinky gold goblet which she had subsequently lost-not that she liked the goblet, but it must have been worth a fortune, and she often thought of its loss with regret. If she ever wished to change her man, she would simply visit an expensive bar in Rio or anywhere, on her own, and pick up another man who would be pleased to add her to his expense account, and back she would go to America or Germany or Sweden. Mildred couldn't have cared less what country she was in.

Once she was forgotten at a restaurant table, as a cigarette lighter might be left behind. Mildred noticed, but Herb didn't for some thirty minutes which were mildly worrying for Mildred, though Mildred never got really distressed about anything. She did turn to the man sitting next to her-it was a business lunch, four men, four girls-and she said, "I thought Herb had just gone to the loo-"

"What?" The heavyset man next to her was an American. "Oh. He'll be back. We had some unpleasant business to talk over today, you know. Herb's upset." The American smiled understandingly. He had his girlfriend by his side, one he'd picked up last night. The girls hadn't opened their mouths, except to eat.

Herb came back and got Mildred, and they went to their hotel room, Herb in utmost gloom, because he'd come out badly in the business deal. Mildred's embraces that afternoon failed to lift Herb's spirits or his ego, and that evening Mildred was traded in. Her new guardian was Stanley, about thirty-five, pudgy, like Herb. The trade took place at cocktail time, while Mildred sipped her usual Alexander through a straw. Herb got Stanley's girl, a dumb blonde with artificially curled hair. The blondness was artificial too, though a good job, Mildred observed, make-up and hair-do being matters Mildred was an expert in. Mildred returned to the hotel briefly to pack her suitcase, then she spent the evening and night with Stanley. He hardly talked to her, but he smiled a lot, and made a lot of telephone calls. This was in Des Moines.

With Stanley, Mildred went to Chicago, where Stanley had a small flat of his own, plus a wife in a house somewhere, he said. Mildred wasn't worried about the wife. Only once in her life had she had to deal with a difficult wife who crashed into a flat. Mildred had brandished a carving knife, and the wife had fled. Usually a wife just looked dumbfounded, then sneered and walked off, obviously intending to avenge herself on her husband. Stanley was away all day and didn't give her much money, which was annoying. Mildred wasn't going to stay long with Stanley, if she could help it. She'd started a savings account in a bank somewhere once, but she'd lost her passbook and forgotten the name of the town where the bank was.

But before Mildred could make a wise move away from Stanley, she found herself given away. This was a shock. An economist would have drawn a conclusion about currency that was given away, and so did Mildred. She realized that Stanley came out a bit better in the deal he had made with the man called Louis, to whom he gave Mildred, but still-

And she was only twenty-three. But Mildred knew that was the danger age, and that she'd better play her cards carefully from now on. Eighteen was the peak, and she was five years past it, and what had she to show for it? A diamond bracelet that men eyed with greed, and that she'd twice had to get out of hock with the aid of some new bastard. A mink coat-same story. A suitcase with a couple of good-looking dresses. What did she want? Well, she wanted to continue the same life but with a sense of greater security. What would she do if her back was really to the wall? If she, kicked out maybe, not even given away, had to go to a bar and even then couldn't pick up more than a one-night stand? Well, she had some addresses of past men-friends, and she could always write them and threaten to put them in her memoirs, which she could say a publisher was paying her to write. But Mildred had talked with girls twenty-five and older who'd threatened memoirs, if they weren't pensioned off for life, and she'd heard of only one who had succeeded. More often, the girls said, it was a laugh they got, or a "Go ahead and write it" rather than any money.

So Mildred made the best of it for a few days with fat old Louis. He had a nice tabby cat, of which Mildred grew fond, but the most boring thing was that his apartment was a one-room kitchenette and dreary. Louis was good-natured but tightfisted. Also it was embarrassing for Mildred to be sneaked out when she and Louis went out for dinner (not usually, because Louis expected her to cook and to do a little cleaning too), and when Louis had people in to talk business, to be asked to hide in the kitchenette and not to make a sound. Louis sold pianos wholesale. Mildred rehearsed the speech she was going to make soon: "I hope you realize you haven't any hold over me, Louis . . . I'm a girl who's not used to working, not even in bed . . ."

But before she had a chance to make her speech, which would mainly have been a demand for more money, because she knew Louis had plenty tucked away, she was given away to a young salesman one night. Louis simply said, after they'd all finished dinner in a roadside café, "Dave, why don't you take Mildred to your place for a nightcap? I've got to turn in early." With a wink.

Dave beamed. He was nice looking, but he lived in a caravan, good God! Mildred had no intention of becoming a gypsy, taking sponge baths, enduring portable loos. She was used to grand hotels with room service day and night. Dave might be young and ardent, but Mildred didn't give a damn about that. Men said women were all alike, but in her opinion it was even truer that men were all alike. All they wanted was one thing. Women at least wanted fur coats, good perfume, a holiday in the Bahamas, a cruise somewhere, jewelry-in fact, quite a number of things.

One evening when she was with Dave at a business dinner (he was a piano distributor and order-taker, though Mildred never saw a piano around the caravan), Mildred made the acquaintance of a Mr. Zupp, called Sam, who had invited Dave to dine in a fancy restaurant. Inspired by three Alexanders, Mildred flirted madly with Sam, who was not unresponsive under the table, and Mildred simply announced that she was going home with Sam. Dave's mouth fell open, and he started to make a fuss, but Sam-an older, more self-assured man-most diplomatically implied that he would make a scene if it came to a fistfight, so Dave backed down.

This was a big improvement. Sam and Mildred flew at once to Paris, then to Hamburg. Mildred got new clothes. The hotel rooms were great. Mildred never knew from one day to the next what town they would be in. Now here was a man whose memoirs would be worth something, if she could only find out what he did. But when he spoke on the telephone, it was either in code, or in Yiddish, or Russian, or Arabic. Mildred had never heard such baffling languages in her life, and she was never able to find out just what he was selling. People had to sell something, didn't they? Or buy something, and if they bought something, there had to be a source of money, didn't there? So what was even the source of money? Something told Mildred that it would soon be time for her to retire. Sam Zupp seemed to have been sent by Providence. She worked on him, trying to be subtle.

"I wouldn't mind settling down," she said.

"I'm not the marrying kind," he retorted with a smile.

That wasn't what she meant. She meant a nest egg, and then he could say good-bye, if he wanted to. But wouldn't it take a few nest eggs to make a big nest egg? Would she have to go through all this again with future Sam Zupps? Mildred's mind staggered with the effort to see so far into the future, but there seemed no doubt that she should take advantage of Mr. Zupp, at least, while she had him. These ideas, or plans, frail as damaged spider webs, were swept away by the events of the days after the above conversation.

Sam Zupp was suddenly on the run. For a few days, it was airplanes with separate seats, because he and Mildred were not supposed to be traveling together. Once police sirens were behind them, as Sam's hired driver zoomed and careered over an Alpine road, bound for Geneva. Or maybe Zurich. Mildred was in her element, ministering to Sam with handkerchiefs moistened in eau de cologne, producing a sandwich de jambon out of her handbag in case he was hungry, or a flask of brandy if he felt his heart fluttering. Mildred fancied herself one of the heroines she had seen in films-good films-about men and their girlfriends fleeing from the awful and so unfairly well-armed police.

Her daydreams of glamour were brief. It must have been in Holland-Mildred didn't know where she was half the time-when the chauffeur-driven car suddenly screeched to a halt, just like in the films, and Mildred was bundled by both chauffeur and Sam into a mummy-like casing of stiff, heavy tarpaulin, and then ropes were tied around her. She was dumped into a canal and drowned.

No one ever heard of Mildred. No one ever found her. If she had been found, there would have been no immediate means of identification, because Sam had her passport, and her handbag was in the car. She had been thrown away, as one might throw away a cricket lighter when it is used up, like a paperback one has read and which has become excess baggage. Mildred's absence was never taken seriously by anyone. The score or so people who knew and remembered her, themselves scattered about the world, simply thought she was living in some other country or city. One day, they supposed, she'd turn up again in some bar, in some hotel lobby. Soon they forgot her.



Excerpted from Nothing That Meets the Eye by Patricia Highsmith Copyright © 2001 by The Estate of Patricia Highsmith
Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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Table of Contents

The Mightiest Mornings 3
Uncertain Treasure 27
Magic Casements 37
Miss Juste and the Green Rompers 53
Where the Door Is Always Open and the Welcome Mat Is Out 61
In the Plaza 79
The Hollow Oracle 101
The Great Cardhouse 113
The Car 129
The Still Point of the Turning World 147
The Pianos of the Steinachs 163
A Mighty Nice Man 191
Quiet Night 197
Doorbell for Louisa 203
A Bird in Hand 225
Music to Die By 241
Man's Best Friend 253
Born Failure 267
A Dangerous Hobby 283
The Returnees 297
Nothing That Meets the Eye 317
Two Disagreeable Pigeons 335
Variations on a Game 343
A Girl like Phyl 359
It's a Deal 381
Things Had Gone Badly 393
The Trouble with Mrs. Blynn, the Trouble with the World 409
The Second Cigarette 419
Afterword 437
Notes on the Stories 451
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