Monday, December 28, 2009

The Selected Stories of Patricia Highsmith: Slowly, Slowly in the Wind

Slowly, Slowly in the Wind
by Patricia Highsmith

Here we watch the unpleasant passage of time, the mounting madness of people who perhaps did not have much sense to begin with. I wish I could tell you that these people were relatable, or even just somewhat sympathetic, but most of them aren’t. With the exception of about three or four out of the twelve stories, no one is likeable or all that compelling. Still, I plodded on, curious about the next title, wondering where it would rate against the others. For the first time in this collected volume, I started to find myself skimming.

Within this book, Patricia Highsmith’s prejudices become more apparent. She takes a disparaging attitude towards other races, dogs and to some degree, children. At first I wanted to take it as just another form of satire, but after getting farther into those stories, I didn’t feel any sense of humor behind the writing. She’s once again pointing out the various horrible ways people can act towards one another, but rarely did I feel that the reader was invited to find them silly.

All of the characters act out of apprehension, and they are often unable to cope with change. When a man’s daughter runs off with a disliked neighbor’s son, he kills the neighbor and makes him a scarecrow. After a man is mugged for the third time in his Brooklyn neighborhood, he stabs the black teenager the next day, thinking that it’s payback for other crimes committed by “welfare people.” Another man hates that no one notices his petty thievery at the local wax museum, so it escalates to murder of three of their employees, followed by an “artful” arrangement of their bodies on a set piece. The psychopathic characters aren’t even interesting ones.

Still, there are a couple of bright spots. The more effective stories come when Highsmith either uses a non-human entity as the source for fear, such as in “The Pond,” where vines take on a life of their own. In “Please Don’t Shoot the Trees,” set in a non-specified future where everyone has a personal helicopter, the area trees have started forming mysterious white blisters that shoot toxic substances, seemingly on purpose. My first thought was that maybe The Happening would have had better reviews if it had taken that approach — Nature that Nukes YOU! Well, it’s a thought, anyway.

Probably the best story out of the twelve is “A Curious Suicide,” in which a doctor decides to take revenge on the man who stole away the woman he loved. Yes, it’s murder again, but maybe it just reminded me of the Ripley novels, since it’s set in France and Switzerland, and it involves plotting around housekeeping and job schedules. For once, the person committing the crime couldn’t mount a decent insanity defense.

Overall, I would not recommend this book on its own. Shoved in among four others, I suppose it was an okay way to make some progress in the back catalogue, but like the title suggests, time slowed to an unfortunate pace.

Book # 9/52
Read as part of a 700+ page collection of stories, but this book was published on its own in 1979.

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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