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A Legacy of Talent

On this day 100 years ago Mary Patricia Plangman was born in Ft. Worth Texas. Twenty-nine years later she would become known all over the world as Patricia Highsmith when her first novel Strangers on a Train was optioned by none other than Alfred Hitchcock.

Highsmith went on to become one of the most elite writers of mystery and murder. Her ability to tap into the psyche of her murderous characters offered up tales woven on the border of horror like no other and quickly put her in a genre all her own.

Author of more than twenty novels, including The Talented Mr. Ripley and his many new adventures that followed, Highsmith was soon among the most filmed authors with a total of 28 films depicting her stories and unforgettable characters.  The beautiful cinematography success of the 2015 Todd Haynes film Carol, based on Highsmith's novel The Price of Salt, was nominated for numerous awards including the Oscars and Cannes.  

Diogenes Verlag, the literary estate holder of Patricia Highsmith, in preparation for the marking of her 100th birthday released Ladies, showcasing stories that previously appeared in school newspapers and women's magazines. This never before published five story collection was soon followed by the reprinting of other Highsmith works: The Sweet Madness, Deep Water, The Owl's Cry, Elsie's Lust for Life, Edith's Diary and The Price of Salt.

A complicated and brilliant woman, Highsmith possessed a darkness that would catapult her career and simultaneously disrupt her personal life many times over. Her private diaries, filled with prejudices, longing, love and despair, display an inner battle of self-loathing crashing against a desire to give affection while never truly accepting any.

100 years from her birth and 71 years from her writing debut, the brilliance that is Highsmith remains unrivaled. Her unmatched ability to twist deception and evil into a likable, relatable character is certain to attract new generations of readers for decades to come.

The announcement from Diogenes in September of 2020 that they will publish several excerpts from her many journals has been met with anticipation and intrigue. The upcoming 2021 release will no doubt bring much discussion and deliberation over the dichotomy of the author that was seen and the woman that hid behind the pages of her innermost vile thoughts.

For those that can't wait, you can find excerpts from her diaries and insights from those that knew her in The Talented Miss Highsmith: The Secret Life and Serious Art of Patricia Highsmith, by Joan Schenkar (2009), or check out the newest journey into the mind of Highsmith with Devils, Lusts & Strange Desires: The Life of Patricia Highsmith by Richard Bradford, set to release January 21, 2021.


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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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