The Talented Ms. Highsmith

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Review of Joan Schenkar’s The Talented Miss Highsmith: The Secret Life and Serious Art of Patricia Highsmith: “She kept 300 snails as pets. She drank a quart of gin a day. She considered robbery worse than murder. She left the United States to live in Europe because of what she called ‘the Negro problem’ — by which she did not mean discrimination against Negroes, but the civil rights movement that had Negroes demanding their rights.

A houseguest once left her window open; she threw a dead rat inside. She took tips left on restaurant tables. She’d drive 60 miles to get a cheaper spaghetti dinner. She called Hitler’s extermination policy a ‘semicaust’, because only half the world’s Jews died.

She thought that ‘life didn’t make sense without a crime in it.’ Her idea of happiness was to write a murder. At 1:30 in the morning, standing in a lover’s apartment, she didn’t hesitate to make a booty call to another woman. ‘I am a man and I love women,’ she wrote. She liked young blonds, very made up.

A mental health professional, observing her for only a few minutes, pegged her as a psychopath. Another writer described her as ‘a black cloud.’ Her own assessment: ‘If I were to relax and become human, I could not bear my life.’

…Why would you even think of reading more than 600 pages about such a monster?” (Head Butler)