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Posted by Alexander Jerri

Patricia Highsmith, 1921-95, was the author of the Talented Mr. Ripley series of books, among other fiction, including probably the only lesbian love story of its time wherein the protagonists aren’t dead or arrested at the end. Graham Greene, who could really write a book, called Patricia Highsmith “the poet of apprehension.” In those days, whenever that was, there existed an informal fraternity of genre writers, and popular writers in general, and Highsmith was both. She was also a lifelong drunk – kudos to her for sticking with it – another literary fraternity one could inhabit. And she was queer as an anaconda is long.

She was also a proud anti-Semite who wished Hitler had done a more thorough job of it. She wore the label “Jew-hater” proudly. And she did support the Palestinian cause. So, if you ever wonder how anyone dare slur people with the charge of anti-Semitism just for supporting Palestinians, just remember that Patricia Highsmith existed and lent her bad name to that particular political stance.

She also vocally avowed hatred for black people, the welfare state, speakers of the Romance Languages and of Latin persuasion, Greeks, Indians (both the Western indigenous and subcontinental varieties), men, and women.

She was also in the literary fraternity of compulsive fornicators. The Belfast Telegraph called her a “Nympho, racist crime writer” just this past January. I didn’t even know nympho was still a word.

And she opined that human pregnancies should be aborted, and the fetal remains used to feed animals. Literary misanthropes were another fraternity one could belong to, although they tended not be able to stand each other’s company. So, it might be more proper to call it an individual avocation than any kind of siblinghood.

She preferred to have affairs with well-heeled women who were either married or in relationships. She enjoyed breaking up lesbian couples.

I have been reading, in no particular order, but almost reverse chronologically, the five books known as “The Ripliad.” I became interested in Highsmith’s Tom Ripley character after seeing “The Talented Mr. Ripley” starring Matt Damon in the title role. It’s not the first time that particular novel has been adapted to the screen. In 1960 it was made into a film, “Plein Soleil,” (English title, currently, “Purple Noon”) by René Clément, starring Alain Delon as Ripley.

Both films, and the novel, are set on the Mediterranean Italian coast in summer. The food and drink are delightful, the characters young and attractive. The adaptation made in 1960 makes me wish I’d been alive then. Ah, to be a young rapscallion in those days, travelling around Italy, murdering rich people and stealing their identities. You really couldn’t get away with it anymore.

A later Ripley book is Ripley’s Game, which has been made into a movie starring John Malkovich, directed by Liliana Cavani, who made “The Night Porter,” a film that ruffled Roger Ebert’s feathers. Cavani’s Ripley film shows Ripley later in life, having acquired the situation he’d set his sights on, refined, an urbane man of marvelous taste in wine, music, art, food, and with a few more casual murders under his belt.

To be Ripley would be marvelous, like being Hannibal Lecter without the burden of genius or having to eat all those fava beans. Also, with the amazing luck never to get caught.

Wim Wenders made a film in the 70s based on the same book. He called it “The American Friend,” and while it is a nice Euro-romp with Bruno Ganz and Dennis Hopper, the casting of Hopper and the entire style of the film makes for a pretty lousy addition to the Ripley filmography. Wenders is more concerned with film style and his own place in the European filmmaking pantheon of the time than in making a Ripley film. Highsmith is not a stylist. US and UK fiction is currently drowning in master stylists. Highsmith was a very direct storyteller.

In fact, Highsmith is what Ayn Rand might’ve been had she had a few compulsions other than megalomania, and of course some talent and imagination.

I believe I’m going to be in thrall to Highsmith and Tom Ripley for some time. I’m at a point in Ripley Underground where he’s about to dare to impersonate, for yet a second time, the artist, Derwatt, forgeries of whose work Tom has been profiting from since Derwatt committed suicide in Greece some years ago. The forger, Bernard, is missing and in a psychologically unstable condition, one symptom of which was attempting to bury Ripley alive.

Ripley is going to attempt this second impersonation in the presence of a detective who’s interrogated him, in his undisguised persona, at close quarters before, and the widow of a man he murdered for threatening to expose the ongoing forgery deception. The detective is in fact investigating this murdered man’s disappearance, as his body has not been discovered and might never be, at least until the final book of the Ripliad. There’s the additional worry that Bernard, or possibly Bernard’s ex-girlfriend, who holds a grudge against Tom for involving Bernard in the forgery scheme in the first place, might show up unexpectedly and unmask Ripley and expose the years of fraudulent art sales.

“The poet of apprehension,” indeed. Even more, a hypnotist who can create in many readers empathy for an anti-hero who possesses no empathy himself. This to me is supremely relevant these days. Fox News has been attempting to do the same on behalf of white supremacy for years. But there is something more broadly symptomatic about our misbegotten culture here, and I’m going to get to bottom of it. If there is a bottom. Maybe there’s a power-bottom.

This has been the Moment of Truth. Good day!