Overview

"Like Ripley, [Highsmith's characters] burn in a reader's memory."—Susan Salters Reynolds, Los Angeles Times Book Review


In unmistakable Highsmithian fashion, Small g, Patricia Highsmith's final novel, opens near a seedy Zurich bar with the brutal murder of Petey Ritter. Unraveling the vagaries of love, sexuality, jealousy, and death, Highsmith weaves a mystery both hilarious and astonishing, a classic fairy tale executed with a characteristic penchant for darkness. Published ...
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Small g: A Summer Idyll

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Overview

"Like Ripley, [Highsmith's characters] burn in a reader's memory."—Susan Salters Reynolds, Los Angeles Times Book Review


In unmistakable Highsmithian fashion, Small g, Patricia Highsmith's final novel, opens near a seedy Zurich bar with the brutal murder of Petey Ritter. Unraveling the vagaries of love, sexuality, jealousy, and death, Highsmith weaves a mystery both hilarious and astonishing, a classic fairy tale executed with a characteristic penchant for darkness. Published in paperback for the first time in America, Small g is at once an exorcism of Highsmith's literary demons and a revelatory capstone to a wholly remarkable career. It is a delightfully incantatory work that, in the tradition of Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream, shows us how bizarre and unpredictable love can be.
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Editorial Reviews

David Leavitt
… the novel does succeed on the one level at which one least expects success from a writer as dark as Highsmith: it is strangely charming. Like Renate herself, Small g moves along with a slap, scrape, slap, scrape that casts a spell. Like Renate, it is refined, ruthless, clumsy, and in the end, far more likable than it should be.
The New York Times
Publishers Weekly
The last novel by this still underappreciated author, published here nine years after Highsmith's death, is a sour, mostly inert comedy of manners. In Zurich, Rickie Markwalder mourns his younger lover, Peter Ritter, stabbed to death late one night six months earlier. Accompanied by his small dog, Lulu, Rickie haunts a local bar called Jakob's, identified in guidebooks with a "small g" (for gay), hanging out with acquaintances. The bar draws a mixed crowd, most of whom are in love with people they shouldn't be (a familiar Highsmith theme). Renate, a club-footed, middle-aged atelier owner and her young employee Luisa are other regulars. Homophobic to the point of caricature, Renate despised Peter (upon whom Luisa had a crush) and despises Rickie. When a handsome young man, Teddie, comes to the bar, she and an associate set out to wreck any relationship he might develop with either Rickie or Luisa, both of whom are attracted to him. When Rickie and Luisa realize what Renate is trying to do, they make their own plans to punish her in return. While the narrative never flags, at no point does it take off. There are flashes of the author's wit, but much of the writing captures surfaces and nothing more, and Highsmith's remarkable observational powers are muffled. Although most of the characters are well drawn, Renate is simply too much of an ogre to serve as either a realistic threat or a foil, and the story suffers accordingly. Overall, this is a disappointing final note by one of our more interesting writers. Agent, Diogenes Verlag. (June) Forecast: After a flurry of reissues in the last few years, Highsmith fatigue may be setting in. This novel isn't likely to reverse the trend, though as a new release it's something of a novelty. Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
Completed shortly before Highsmith's death in 1995, her final novel opens with the assault and murder of Rickie Markwalder's boyfriend, Pete, near Zurich on a January night. No one is apprehended, and Rickie is heartbroken and angry amid a swirl of nasty rumors started by local dressmaker Renate, a homophobe with a club foot. Jump ahead to the summer: Rickie has begun to move on with his life, throwing himself into his advertising and design work and resuming his daily visits to Jakob's, a pub/restaurant that is the village hub (travel guides mark it with a small G for "gay friendly;" thus the title). There, he runs into Renate, her apprentice, Luisa; and Renate's cohort, Willi, among other regulars. He has little success with romance until Teddie enters Jakob's one evening and shakes up his routine forever. While Teddie is grateful for Rickie's attention and kindness, he falls as hard for Luisa as Rickie falls for him. The characters in this triangle go after what each desires, following a convoluted path of attraction, romance, and jealousy that reveals the power of friendship when attraction isn't reciprocated or romance wanes. As Highsmith did in her Ripley series, she exposes the pettiness, greed, and selfishness as well as the kindness, compassion, and selflessness of her characters. A powerful and mesmerizing read; highly recommended for public and academic libraries. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 2/1/04.]-Lisa Nussbaum, Dauphin Cty. Lib. Syst., Harrisburg, PA Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
A meandering story of gay and straight life in modern Zurich, the last fiction by Highsmith (Nothing That Meets the Eye, 2002, etc.) before her death in 1995. It is a pity that the author of Strangers on a Train and the Ripley novels should have left this paltry story as the final contribution to a long and distinguished body of work. Set deep within the stolid back alleys of the hardworking Swiss metropolis, it lingers particularly within the confines of two gay bars: Jakob's and the Small g. Both (Jakob's especially) are patronized by a highly mixed crowd, with straights and homophobes thrown into the usual mix of gays, lesbians, and the happily unaffiliated. The hero is one Rickie Markwalder, a commercial artist who runs his own business and is HIV-positive. Rickie's most recent boyfriend, Petey Ritter, was murdered on the street not long ago during a mugging that got out of hand, and Rickie bears his grief quietly as he goes about his daily routines and looks after his pet dog, Lulu. Luisa Zimmermann, an apprentice dress designer, had been in love with Petey also, a fact that engenders a kind of paternal feeling in Rickie for the young woman. But Luisa works for Renate Hagnauer, a vicious homophobe who has spread rumors that Petey was killed in bed by someone he picked up at Jakob's, and Renate's gossip is magnified by the odious Willi Biber, a gay-bashing thug who hangs out at Jakob's in search of new prey. When the handsome young Swiss-American Teddie Stevenson begins frequenting Jakob's, he becomes the object of attention by Rickie and Luisa alike, and, naturally, Willi and Renate take a perverse interest in the young man as well. Fights, broken hearts, an unexpected death ensue.Aimless and uninteresting tale that would have been best left to the archives.
Francine Prose - O Magazine
“All the qualities we love about Highsmith's work…are here in abundance…her characters astonish themselves, and us, by discovering love in the very last places they ever expected to find it.”
David Leavitt - New York Times Book Review
“Its superabundance of characters is only one of the elements that give Small g its air of Shakespearean complexity.”
Louise Welsh - Washington Post Book World
“Small g is a welcome addition to Highsmith's published novels, offering readers an insight into a fascinating aspect of Swiss society and an opportunity to explore Highsmith's final concerns and obsessions.”
Misha Stone - Booklist
“Highsmith's last book…offer[s] an intriguing exploration of gay culture and the complexities of love, jealousy, possessiveness and friendship.”
Lambda Book Report
“The best thing about Small g is the affectionate homage it pays to relationships that are not exclusive or possessive, that may or may not be sexual, but which have the power to create happiness or break a stranglehold that is choking off a full, delicious life.”
Aaron Stander - I Love a Mystery
“All those qualities that have made Highsmith such an important figure—her carefully crafted prose, her understanding of human frailties and the randomness of life—are present in this final work.”
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780393345629
  • Publisher: Norton, W. W. & Company, Inc.
  • Publication date: 5/28/2012
  • Sold by: Barnes & Noble
  • Format: eBook
  • Pages: 320
  • Sales rank: 1,127,031
  • File size: 653 KB

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

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