I know I'm a wuss but I've never been comfortable with Patricia Highsmith's fiction, either on the page or the screen. "Strangers on a Train, "The Talented Mr. Ripley" and its sequals are all brilliantly chilling. The sole exception may be "The Price of Salt," her early lesbian (almost happy) novel published under the name Claire Morgan. Certainly her extensive oeuvre doesn't contain anything else I'd call a "curl up by a cozy fire" type of narrative.
I can handle an alien invation or a police procedural but almost any permutation of Highsmith's imagination leaves me uneasy and queasy. Even putting together the most charming actors in Euro-Hollywood---Gwyneth Paltrow, Jude Law and Phillip Seymour Hoffman---for the cast of 'Ripley,' didn't lessen the anxiety factor of the story for me. Somehow her grasp of the psychological perversities of human beings freaks me out!
And this is the talent Ms. Highsmith possesses. She tosses her reader head first into a hole full of squiggly worms that appear, at first, benign. However, slowly and inexorably her stories remind us that worms are the ones that eat the flesh off of our bones.
Joan Schenkar's fabulous new biography reveals Patricia Highsmith to be the perfect worm master...although her pet of choice was actually snails! Beautifully and unusually crafted, the bio unfolds Highsmith's life like an intricate paper sculpture; corners and creases opening out to reveal discomforting details about the author's personality that make me want to go back and re-read her novels...and take a Xanax.