Selected Stories of Patricia Highsmith

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Overview

A literary event—a landmark collection of noir masterpieces by the renowned author of The Talented Mr. Ripley.

In a cruel twist of irony, Texas-born Patricia Highsmith is only now, six years after her death, being recognized for her inestimable genius in her native land. With the savage humor of Evelyn Waugh and the macabre sensibility of Edgar Allan Poe, she brought a distinct twentieth-century acuity to her prolific body of noir fiction. Called "the poet of apprehension" by ...

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Overview

A literary event—a landmark collection of noir masterpieces by the renowned author of The Talented Mr. Ripley.

In a cruel twist of irony, Texas-born Patricia Highsmith is only now, six years after her death, being recognized for her inestimable genius in her native land. With the savage humor of Evelyn Waugh and the macabre sensibility of Edgar Allan Poe, she brought a distinct twentieth-century acuity to her prolific body of noir fiction. Called "the poet of apprehension" by Graham Greene, Highsmith was unrivaled in capturing the ways in which our seemingly benign neighbors can become the psychopaths next door. Now, five of her classic short story collections are combined in a single volume, The Selected Stories of Patricia Highsmith, with a foreword by Graham Greene. With Selected Stories, W. W. Norton is proud to bring out the first in a series by Patricia Highsmith—a master of suspense and an American literary icon.

Author Biography: Patricia Highsmith wrote twenty-one novels, including Strangers on a Train and the Ripley series. She died in 1995 in Switzerland, where she resided much of her life.

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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
The Barnes & Noble Review
Best known for her novels (The Talented Mr. Ripley, Strangers on a Train, A Suspension of Mercy, and others) Highsmith is an all-too-frequently forgotten master of the short story. These stories in this volume examine the dark soul of humanity in a deceptively simple voice that draws you in and won't let go. The sheer beauty of the streamlined prose disguises a complexity of character and situation that is the mark of a true master.

Highsmith's ability to create believable characters with very little exposition, but rather through their behavior and dialog, is incredible. None of the stories in this volume is particularly long, but you're drawn in and seduced by the power of the prose. Whether it's a cat driven to commit murder to protect his mistress ("Ming's Biggest Prey"), a rat exacting a horrible revenge on a family that maimed him ("The Bravest Rat in Venice"), or a house party interrupted by something grisly ("Something the Cat Dragged In"), these stories are impossible to put down.

A great example of Highsmith's artistry is "Mermaids on the Golf Course," about a presidential adviser who took an assassin's bullet to protect the president. This seemingly heroic man is slowly exposed throughout the story as something completely different, mainly through his dialogue and the reactions of his family to him. Highsmith deftly exposes the many layers in his character, shows that the surface we see often disguises the truth below, and asks the question, "How well do we know anyone?"

Likewise, "The Female Novelist" is so consumed with herself and her craft that she destroys herself. "The Hand" is a chilling twist on the age-old custom of asking for someone's hand in marriage. Highsmith's stories linger on after they are read, and show that for true horror, you don't need the supernatural; you merely need to write about people. (Greg Herren)

Time
For eliciting the menace that lurks in familiar surroundings, there's no one like Patricia Highsmith.
From The Critics
Her best stories have a hallucinatory screwiness....[R]eaders are sure to be left feeling by turns startled, oppressed, amused and queasy.
Janet Maslin
A fascinating artifact, and a difficult book to put down.
New York Times
New York Times Book Review
Her best stories have a hallucinatory screwiness....[R]eaders are sure to be left feeling by turns startled, oppressed, amused and queasy.
From The Critics
The world of Patricia Highsmith, although not exactly bleak—it's too strange and often too humorous for that—is a place both capricious and unforgiving. In twenty-three novels, the best known of which, Strangers on a Train and The Talented Mr. Ripley, have been made into films, Highsmith's mostly middle-class characters become enmeshed in a variety of sinister plots. Neither innocence nor good intentions prove to be much help to them: The bumbling neighbor is as likely to meet a rotten end as the mercenary thug. Many pay with their lives for some trivial error; a few are spared with chilling randomness, often remaining ignorant of how narrowly they've sidestepped fate. In this posthumous collection of short stories (Highsmith died in 1995), the inevitable process is merely accelerated tenfold. The best of these pieces have a startling quality that may be likened to getting a shove near the edge of a train platform—even if we emerge physically unscathed, the daily routine can never seem so harmless again.

In "The Baby Spoon," one of the collection's most characteristic and satisfying pieces, a saturnine professor who daily watches his wife stir her tea with a tiny silver spoon dating from her childhood conceives a contemptuous hatred for her "lisping coyness." When the spoon disappears, the professor assumes that it was stolen by a brilliant but erratic graduate student and is cheered, as the reader is, by the improvement in his wife, who, with the loss of the spoon, seems to be "breaking the barriers between herself and the adult world." This feels to the reader like a happy ending. Apparently it also feels that way to the professor, who, buoyedby the lucky outcome, even thanks the supposed thief. But the flippant gesture provokes a surprising reaction from the student that culminates in an outburst of violence.

Equally successful is "Something the Cat Dragged In," the tale of a foursome who, during a leisurely game of Scrabble, see their host's cat pull something white through the door. The object, at first thought to be a turnip or a carrot, proves to be two severed fingers held together by a portion of a bloated hand. "If it had been a gentleman's hand they might have turned it in to the police," the narrator observes. However, since the fingers, worn with toil, are so obviously a workman's, the foursome feel no special urgency. The story becomes truly strange when the host of the little gathering elects to take the severed fingers to his tool bench and cut them apart to see if the wedding band embedded in the flesh can be identified as anyone's in particular.

When one thinks of who populates the noir genre, the usual suspects come to mind—small-time crooks, melancholy detectives, discontented blondes listening to torch songs in gin joints. But Highsmith brought the malaise of noir into suburbs and run-of-the-mill offices. Although she was born in Texas, and her characters are almost always English or American, Highsmith's tales are often set in Europe. That's not to say that the author is looking for window dressing. Rather, because she was always interested in catching her characters off guard, Highsmith's work reflects a preoccupation with remote locations where characters are not surrounded by those who know them and who might bolster their usual sense of themselves.

Unaccountably, this collection begins not with Highsmith's most engaging pieces but with sinister animal stories. These inevitably consist of an animal somehow mistreated or ignored that turns against its cruel or insensitive owner. The protagonists include a homicidal carthorse, a billy goat and a posse of murderous hamsters. While this segment of the anthology is likely to thrill the membership of PETA, it is monotonous for the unaffiliated reader. Similarly unsatisfying are stories in a section titled "Little Tales of Misogyny," which include "The Prude," "The Coquette" and "The Evangelist." In general, these lack the author's customary psychological acuity. The worst and most insensitive is "The Victim," in which a child who dresses with inappropriate maturity is raped at age eleven, then again at fourteen.

At the opposite end of the spectrum—exquisitely subtle and acute—are some of the final stories. In "The Kite," a sensitive boy remembers his dead sister as he obsessively builds a kite while his uncomprehending father mocks his efforts. "Chris's Last Party" discloses a successful actor's fear that when the mentor who nurtured his career dies, his talent and success will also cease to exist. "The Romantic" chronicles a young woman's loveless life and her habit of treating herself to "fantasy dates" that become so satisfying they finally crowd out the possibility of enjoying an evening with an actual companion. In stories such as these, Highsmith, rather than mocking her characters' insufficiencies, acknowledges that the world is indeed so hard that we must all be a little odd to get through it. In the end, the oddity we shivered at is no longer alien—not purely strange, but strangely familiar.
—Penelope Mesic

(Excerpted Review)
Library Journal
Highsmith's growing posthumous reputation is based on her elegant literary thrillers, which rely on nuanced character study to build tension incrementally, as in Strangers on a Train (1950) or the classic Ripley novels. Highsmith's stories, which are less well known, are mostly nasty, brutish, and short and remarkably effective. Graham Greene calls them "quick kills," and the primary objective seems to be to shock the reader. This selection reprints five collections of short fiction from the 1970s and 1980s. The Animal-Lover's Book of Beastly Murder (1975) is entirely devoted to stories about long-suffering animals who seek revenge on their human tormentors, like the rat who mutilates a sleeping infant or the enraged chickens who escape from an automated hen house. Every story in the aptly titled Little Tales of Misogyny (1977) illustrates an offensive female stereotype, such as "The Breeder," who has so many children that her husband finally goes insane, or "The Perfectionist," who never recovers from an overly ambitious dinner party. When these two collections were first published, their tight thematic organization seemed a bit over the top and probably worked against wide readership. Selected Stories is a big improvement over the original publications in terms of variety and balance, making this the definitive Highsmith story collection. Highly recommended. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 4/15/01.] Edward B. St. John, Loyola Law Sch. Lib., Los Angeles Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
This massive tome reprints five of the seven complete collections of short stories by Highsmith (1921-95), together with a brief introduction by Graham Greene excerpted from a sixth. Little Tales of Misogyny (1974) identifies and coldly condemns such types as "The Coquette" and "The Breeder"; The Animal Lover's Book of Beastly Murder (1975) presents animals turning on their human companions; and the remaining volumes-Slowly, Slowly in the Wind (1979), The Black House (1981), and Mermaids on the Golf Course (1985) show the pioneering novelist of psychological suspense in equally remorseless form, anatomizing the kinds of human frailty that can as easily erupt in murder as in murderous resentment.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780393020311
  • Publisher: Norton, W. W. & Company, Inc.
  • Publication date: 9/1/2001
  • Pages: 724
  • Product dimensions: 6.49 (w) x 9.53 (h) x 1.50 (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

Table of Contents

Foreword
Chorus Girl's Absolutely Final Performance 3
Djemal's Revenge 12
There I Was, Stuck with Bubsy 25
Ming's Biggest Prey 37
In the Dead of Truffle Season 46
The Bravest Rat in Venice 57
Engine Horse 71
The Day of Reckoning 84
Notes from a Respectable Cockroach 98
Eddie and the Monkey Robberies 103
Hamsters vs. Websters 117
Harry: A Ferret 134
Goat Ride 147
The Hand 161
Oona, the Jolly Cave Woman 163
The Coquette 165
The Female Novelist 167
The Dancer 169
The Invalid, or, the Bedridden 171
The Artist 173
The Middle-Class Housewife 176
The Fully Licensed Whore, or, the Wife 179
The Breeder 183
The Mobile Bed-Object 189
The Perfect Little Lady 194
The Silent Mother-in-Law 198
The Prude 202
The Victim 207
The Evangelist 213
The Perfectionist 217
The Man Who Wrote Books in His Head 223
The Network 229
The Pond 243
Something You Have to Live With 259
Slowly, Slowly in the Wind 273
Those Awful Dawns 288
Woodrow Wilson's Necktie 302
One for the Islands 316
A Curious Suicide 322
The Baby Spoon 332
Broken Glass 341
Please Don't Shoot the Trees 357
Something the Cat Dragged In 375
Not One of Us 393
The Terrors of Basket-Weaving 406
Under a Dark Angel's Eye 417
I Despise Your Life 433
The Dream of the Emma C 454
Old Folks at Home 474
When in Rome 494
Blow It 515
The Kite 530
The Black House 546
Mermaids on the Golf Course 565
The Button 577
Where the Action Is 592
Chris's Last Party 606
A Clock Ticks at Christmas 626
A Shot from Nowhere 640
The Stuff of Madness 658
Not in This Life, Maybe the Next 671
I Am Not As Efficient As Other People 685
The Cruelest Month 697
The Romantic 712
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Sort by: Showing all of 2 Customer Reviews
  • Posted December 9, 2008

    more from this reviewer

    fantastic collection

    Known for her novels (see STRANGERS ON A TRAIN and THE TALENTED MR. RIPLEY), the late Patricia Highsmith was also a fabulous short story writer with her myriad of tales containing suspense and believable protagonists even when the star or support cast is an animal. Until this anthology this reviewer had no idea how many and how good her shorts are. --- The collection is divided into five major segments filled with tension and in many cases dark humor. ¿The Animal Lover's Book of Beastly Murder¿ includes thirteen tales of angry animals demanding respect sometimes violently (ask that brave rat) from humans destroying their world. Section Two, ¿The Little Tales of Misogyny¿ contains seventeen tales of morality with choices not always being the high ground. Number three ¿Slowly, Slowly in the Wind¿ holds twelve more classical type horror/sci fi thrillers. ¿The Black House¿ compilation is eleven psychological haunted house tales with quite a human twist. Finally the last grouping, ¿Mermaids on the Golf Course¿ blends horror with loosely put romantic fantasy in eleven fine tales. --- THE SELECTED STORIES OF PATRICIA HIGHSMITH is a fantastic collection that showcases the depth of a great novelist to bring her trademark suspense to the short format. --- Harriet Klausner

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 10, 2004

    A Terrific Pleasure to Discover

    Enjoying this superb collection was an unexpected surprise (after being recommended to me by a friend). There are five collections of Highsmith's short fiction included in this book and there are a few undeniable masterpieces in each one of them. First up is 'The Animal Lover's Book of Beastly Murder,' which includes stories where the protagonists are animals trying to survive in the human world. My favorite is 'The Bravest Rat in Venice,' about a rat exacting a horrible revenge on the family who maimed him. Also enjoyable was 'Notes from a Respectable Cockroach.' 'The Little Tales of Misogyny' was my least favorite group of stories, though 'The Victim' is very well done. For me, the truly great stories of this anthology begin with the 'Slowly, Slowly in the Wind' section (and where Highsmith begins to show her amazing versatility as a writer). 'The Pond,' is a terrific tale of horror and bereavement. 'One for the Islands' is a creepy sci-fi cruise. 'Please Don't Shoot the Trees' is a superb futuristic tale. And 'Slowly, Slowly in the Wind' is a masterpiece of horror and murder. From the collection of 'The Black House' are even more terrific stories. 'Not One of Us' is a wicked, gossipy tale of friends and outsiders. 'The Terrors of Basket-Weaving' exhibits 'possession' at its most haunting. 'Blow It' is a great comedy of manners of a man trying to choose between two girlfriends. And 'The Black House' is a haunted house story gone wrong, where it is not the house that is as haunted as the men who keep the story of it alive. Highsmith exhibits a more domestic, suburban style with the stories in 'Mermaids on the Golf Course.' 'Chris's Last Party' is about an actor's fear when his mentor becomes ill. 'The Cruelest Month' is indeed cruel. And the finest story of the collection (and my favorite) is 'The Romantic,' which chronicles a young woman's 'fantasy dates.' Highsmith is a good, succinct writer who doesn't waste time embellishing or exaggerating her prose, instead letting the plot lead her characters toward their conclusions. I also highly recommend 'Nothing That Meets the Eye: The Uncollected Stories of Patricia Highsmith,' another compilation of Highsmith's short stories. While not as terrific as 'Selected Stories,' it does include a few favorites and masterpieces, among them 'The Second Cigarette,' 'A Bird in Hand,' and 'The Trouble with Mrs. Blynn, the Trouble with the World.'

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