Wednesday, December 23, 2009

The Selected Short Stories of Patricia Highsmith: The Animal-Lover's Book of Beastly Murder

The Animal-Lover’s Book of Beastly Murder
by Patricia Highsmith

Angry hamsters! A carnivorous ferret! Vengeful chickens! Come one, come all, come find yourself strangely amused by all the different reasons why an animal might be driven to kill. Or perhaps they did not intend to kill the person involved, but now that it’s done, what’s the harm? Yes, this book just may be the anti-Marley & Me.

Patricia Highsmith’s not known for her great love of the human race, so it makes sense that she’d spend an entire short story collection thinking of ways animals could vanquish with these pesky people who just get in the way. I mean, really, how is cat supposed to react when her owner’s sleazy boyfriend tries to toss her off the side of the yacht? Or what about the pig who just wants to eat some of the damn truffles it is sent out to find? Come on, cut a mammal a break, man.

While reading, I felt compelled to note aloud what particular species was currently doing all the murderin’. “Hey, honey,” I’d say to my husband as he tried to fall asleep. “I just finished a story called ‘Eddie and the Monkey Robberies.’”

“Mmmurph,” he’d say, and roll over. Fine, guess you don’t need to hear about the irritable camel either.

Oddly enough, the story “Notes from a Respectable Cockroach” doesn’t contain any murder, unless you count the squishing of other cockroaches. Using the dive Hotel Earle as inspiration (if you can call it that), a cockroach simply tells his tale and takes a sudden opportunity to improve his living situation. You’d think that a story about a cockroach wouldn’t be interesting, and yet, it is.

The people who die tend to be cruel, having wronged the animal or another person in some way. They are all varying degrees of horrible, and the animals often come across as indifferent. You don’t exactly root for them, just go along for the ride. Not every story is written from an animal’s point of view, though when written from a human’s point of view, the character is often only a few steps removed from the perceived villain.

Like a lot of Highsmith’s work, this book isn’t for everybody. Saying that I enjoyed reading it does not seem like quite the right word, but it provided good examples of the atypical short story done well. Though I read them as part of a 700+ page collection from 2001, the book was originally published on its own in 1975.

Book # 7/52

This review is part of Pajiba’s Cannonball Read challenge, in which participants attempt to read and review 52 books over the course of one year. The challenge ends October 31, 2010.

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