The Talented Miss Highsmith

Sat Jan 9 2010

One of the best parts about my slide down the socioeconomic ladder (perhaps the only good part) is that I no longer believe that I must own a book in order to read it. My love affair with the library, and one library in particular, has reached that place where I am comfortable and confident in the endurance of our romance.

So when I read Janet Maslin’s review of Joan Schenkar’s biography of Patricia Highsmith, I was moved to clip it to my trusty Evernote notebook and subsequently to request it from the library.

I remember how exciting it was to read The Talented Mr. Ripley some years ago. It felt odd to root for a sociopath, but he was so nice. The movie, by the way, was terrible. It did introduce me to Tu vuò fà l’americano, a wonderful song, though Brian Setzer’s version is more fun.

I am a sucker for book reviews.

Or maybe I’m a sucker for Janet Maslin. I don’t remember whether I ever read any of her pieces in The Boston Phoenix or in The Real Paper back when I was in college, but I do know that any time I see her byline on a review, I’m likely to read it and likely to enjoy it. Maybe Janet (and since I’ve been reading her so long, I feel I can call her by her first name) and I share a similar taste in books and movies. Maybe it’s that Janet Maslin is so darned nice.

I think that if I had read Jeanette Winterson’s review first, I would have said, “There is a good solid book” (it’s almost 700 pages, a fact that caught me by surprise when I finally did get it from the library), and left it alone. Ms Winterson calls it “a biography of clarity and style. A model of its kind.” I’m sure it is, and just knowing that would have been enough for me.

I picked up the book at my favorite library, and, as I said, I was surprised at its size. I carried it with me over the Christmas holidays (it’s really OK with me if you say “Christmas,” in case you were wondering), and finally got around to reading it two days before it was due.

“Got around to reading it” is a little bit of an exaggeration. I opened it, read the first dozen pages or so, and looked at the pictures (her handwriting is indecipherable). When I returned the book (on time), it was in perfect condition. As if it had never been read.