AFTERWORD Known Far From Home BY HOLLY HILDEBRAND IN DECEMBER 1987, when I reviewed Patricia Highsmith’s new novel Found in the Streets for the Houston Post, I noted the irony of the book jacket’s description of her as “a writer whose time has finally come.” After publishing 19 novels, seven volumes of short stories and providing the inspiration for one of Alfred Hitchcock’s greatest films \(Strangers on a Highsmith’s time was, I wrote, if anything long overdue. Three months later, I received a note from Highsmith herself, expressing pleasure at the attention I had given her latest book and decrying, in a characteristically matter-of-fact way, the lack of attention she received in her native land: “I’m rather overlooked in the United States and for two reasons: I’m seldom there to do any publicity for myself with publishers’ help and with the exception of Doubleday, New York, I was ‘rejected’ everytime I came up with a book of short stories, which caused me to seek and find another American publisher. Such was not my fate in Europe, where publishers are far more loyal to their writers, and I think, come out the winners in the end.” Highsmith ended the letter with the hope that, through more American reviews of her work, her “reputation would improve in the States.” But on February 4, when she died at age 74 in Switzerland, where she had settled after living in England, Italy and France, Patricia Highsmith, born in Fort Worth and reared in Manhattan, still enjoyed her greatest measure of fame not in her native land but in Europe. Perhaps that was because in Europe she was not pigeonholed as a genre writer but as an important and serious novelist. No lesser luminaries that Graham Greene, Gore Vidal and Julian Symons \(another reher a “poet of apprehension,” and Vidal asserted she was “certainly one of the most interesting writers of this dismal century.” French and German film makers brought her novels to the screen; in European booktores, bus stations, and book Holly Hildebrand is a freelance writer living in the Houston area. stalls, Highsmith’s novels could be purchased as a matter of course. Despite this measure of acclaim \(her and even though she entered the pantheon of popular culture when Hitchcock made Strangers, most of Highsmith’s novels have never been easy to find in the United States. After being hooked on her work with Strangers, The Talented Mr. Ripley and A Dog’s Ransom, I had to haunt book fairs and used bookstores for years before I could find even a few other titles ; compulsively readable works like Edith’s Diary, This Sweet Sickness or A Suspension of Mercy. Only when I discovered a specialty mystery bookstore in Houston was I able to fill the considerable gaps in my Highsmith collection with books like The Two Faces of January, Those Who Walk Away, The Blunderer, and Deep Water. That was years ago, but the current proliferation of general-interest bookstores continues the reluctance to give Highsmith her due, which would be a long shelf in the fiction spaces in the mystery section. For although Highsmith is fascinated with the criminal mindshe called criminals “dramatically interesting, because for a time at least they are active, free in spirit” and created two of the greatest criminal psychopaths, Bruno and Tom Ripley, in literaturequite a lot of what she wrote about had nothing whatsoever to do with crime. There’s the fascinating Edith’s Diary, for instance, the story of a middle-aged woman who takes refuge in the fantasy of her diary after she is deserted by her husband. In People Who Knock on the Door, Highsmith probes the effect of religious bigotry. Shrewd insights into people’s souls, the things they love, or as was more often the case, what or who they loathed, made stories like “The Cries of Love,” “The Barbarians” and “The Network” intriguing. Highsmith even wrote a humorous story about a roach in the strange collection she called The Animal’s Beastly Book of Murder. And a 1952 novel, The Price of Salt, published under a pen name, was a story of lesbian love. Highsmith was more interested in psychology than whodunits or, certainly, justice, which she called “artificial and boring.” Instead, she ruthlessly probed the minds of her characters, quite often weak men, like Walter the “blunderer,” who cannot decide whether to kill his wife; Guy, who is unable to shake free of Bruno and his diabolical, murderous plots; or Vic, the cuckolded husband of Deep Water who casually murders. Often, a sensational idea or an obsession formed the core of her books: A dog is ransomed, a writer “kills” his wife \(A Suspena man assumes a second life in which he pretends to live with his beloved Claustrophobia permeated her work only the wiliest of her criminals, such as her favorite, Tom Ripley, seemed truly free. And always, alwaysand often in exotic placesthere was a profound sense of danger that could make a reader almost afraid to turn the page. Highsmith books made places like New York, Venice, Crete, Mexico, and Tunis exciting and dangerous, but quite often there were no more dangerous places in her books than her characters’ souls. Few writers portrayed the terror of the emptiness of modern men and women quite like Highsmith, and, in the end, despite the obscurity she suffered in her native country, the geography of her work remains bigger than the state she was born in or the world she left. Send the Texas Observer to School. 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