People Who Knock on the Door

( 2 )

Overview

"Highsmith's novels are peerlessly disturbing...bad dreams that keep us thrashing for the rest of the night."—The New Yorker
With the savage humor of Evelyn Waugh and the macabre sensibility of Edgar Allan Poe, Patricia Highsmith brought a distinct twentieth-century acuteness to her prolific body of fiction. In her more than twenty novels, psychopaths lie in wait amid the milieu of the mundane, in the neighbor clipping the hedges or the spouse asleep next to you at night. Now, Norton continues the revival of this...

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Overview

"Highsmith's novels are peerlessly disturbing...bad dreams that keep us thrashing for the rest of the night."—The New Yorker
With the savage humor of Evelyn Waugh and the macabre sensibility of Edgar Allan Poe, Patricia Highsmith brought a distinct twentieth-century acuteness to her prolific body of fiction. In her more than twenty novels, psychopaths lie in wait amid the milieu of the mundane, in the neighbor clipping the hedges or the spouse asleep next to you at night. Now, Norton continues the revival of this noir genius with another of her lost masterpieces: a later work from 1983, People Who Knock on the Door, is a tale about blind faith and the slippery notion of justice that lies beneath the peculiarly American veneer of righteousness. This novel, out of print for years, again attests to Highsmith's reputation as "the poet of apprehension" (Graham Greene).

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Editorial Reviews

New Yorker
Highsmith's novels are peerlessly disturbing...bad dreams that keep us thrashing for the rest of the night.
Library Journal
Published in 1954 and 1985, respectively, this duo offer more of Highsmith's signature characters in plots where fairly ordinary people perform extraordinary acts of brutality. The Blunderer finds protagonist Walter Stackhouse, who fantasizes about knocking off his wife, in hot water with the cops after the Mrs. ends up at the bottom of a cliff. When Richard Alderman becomes a born-again Christian in People Who Knock on Doors, his family is shattered, leading to a violent outcome. Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780393322439
  • Publisher: Norton, W. W. & Company, Inc.
  • Publication date: 11/28/2001
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 320
  • Sales rank: 386,939
  • Product dimensions: 5.60 (w) x 8.30 (h) x 1.10 (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

Customer Reviews

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Sort by: Showing all of 2 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted November 14, 2002

    Today on "Surburbian Hell with Highsmith"

    Patricia Highsmith pulls a one-two punch on readers with her disturbing "People Who Knock on the Door." The first punch aims at modern Christianity. The second aims at every reader who thought the first punch was aimed at modern Christianity. The story is centered around Arthur, a recent high-school graduate, and the problems he has concerning his family. His father has recently become a Christian - a Bible-thumping, "Amen"-shouting believer. Because his children have not been raised in a Christian home, the father's conversion tears the family apart, and traditional Highsmith violence ensues. Is Highsmith praising or satirizing modern Christianity? Her opinion is seemingly obvious, because the book is almost completely one-sided...or is it? It, in fact, is not one-sided at all. Patricia Highsmith brilliantly pokes fun at herself - and at everyone ready to criticize her - by ultimately making the novel a farce. A very dark farce, mind you, but a farce nonetheless. The "villain" character is extremely one-sided, as is the protagonist. And because of how the book ends, the reader tends to view Highsmith as one-sided, also. In the end, neither side wins: If you're the Christian, Highsmith has pulled the wool over your eyes by getting you to read the book in the first place - you should be reading the Bible, you hypocrite. If you "agree" with her supposed views toward Western Religion, she pulled the wool over your eyes, too - you have become the cynical Arthur...it's easy to point fingers when you're the protagonist, huh? I have come to expect sharp thrillers from Patricia Highsmith. "People Who Knock on the Door" is more than a thriller...it is a razor-sharp dark comedy that succeeds on every level.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 27, 2010

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