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Talent Through Generations

Author Patricia Highsmith (1921-1995) most known for her psychological suspense novels, including the Tom Ripley series, is one of those writers that has literally (or is it literarily?) stood the test of time.  


Her first novel, quickly became her first success. Strangers on a Train, optioned by Alfred Hitchcock for his 1951 film of the same name, launched Highsmith's career and set her on course to become one of the most prolific suspense writers of all time. Strangers on a Train has become the 'standard' for the quid pro quo of suspense.


I would be remiss if I didn't mention the incomparable Talented Mr. Ripley. Her five book series details an insatiable appetite for all things others have, as Tom Ripley's uncanny ability to morph into just about anyone, leads us down a winding road of morality and deception, not hesitating to leave a trail of bodies in its wake. Highsmith taps into the disturbed psyche in ways most writers don't.


While most crime and suspense novels take you on a clue finding mission to discover who was in the library with the knife, you never have to 'guess whodunnit', in a Highsmith novel. Knowing, however, never leaves you unsatisfied as her rapid page turning tales grip you and pull you into the very core of what makes us all human, and the disturbed psyche it takes to commit the most sadistic of acts.


For me, her most brilliant work lies within the pages of a lesser known cult fiction success 'The Price of Salt', published under the pseudonym 'Claire Morgan' in 1952. The groundbreaking story was a first to give LGBTQ readers a 'success' story.


Forbidden love had never been told in such a realistic and engaging way. Taking you on a journey with two woman from different social classes, it weaves a tale not all that uncommon in the lives of its readers. Marriage, children, innocence, deception and insuppressable emotion carries the reader to the proverbial sunset of happy endings.

No one committed suicide, was arrested or converted by the love of a good man in the end, instead it left its readers with an open ended feel that it was possible to live 'happily ever after', no matter who you love. 


From page to screen may have taken 15 years after first optioned, however the Todd Haynes 2015 film, 'Carol' was widely received. Brilliantly written by Phyllis Nagy, along with cinematographer Edward Lachman's unbeatable talent, quickly became one of the most phenomenal love stories ever told on screen. Like the book, it has sparked global inspiration among women, feminists and the LGBTQ community at large, leaving us all wanting more!


We just may get our wish, the literary estate holders are slated to release a compilation of Highsmith's diaries in 2021. Promising not to wash over some of the tasteless and bigoted beliefs Highsmith held, it will include, in her own words, how she viewed herself, her sexuality and much of the rest of the world. 


Though not a sequel or prequel to Carol, it's certain to give us all a little more of the author herself and the workings of her unique and brilliant mind. 


2021 will mark 71 years since Strangers on a Train was first published, and 26 years since the author's passing, yet the Talented Ms. Highsmith continues to hold court in the daring and suspenseful world of the human psyche.




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