07 November 2006

Highsmith's persecuted liberals

Patricia Highsmith's
1972 'A Dog's Ransom'
opens with the dog's murder

her 1977 'Edith's Diary'
opens with an attempt
on a pet cat's life

both are peculiar meditations
on the uncomfortable status
of leftists in the USA

in the first case
a young cop
with a psych degree from Cornell

in the second
a Bryn Mawr alumna
who freelances for respectable
lefty magazines

the cop's story is a sort of
chemistry experiment
where a drop of something
with a mildly basic pH
is added to a mildly acidic solution
(ie, idealist among cynics)

and a gradual series
of individually innocuous missteps
each rubbing against the grain
escalate over a few short weeks
into major tragedy

in the other
over two decades
the leftist can't catch a break

isolated in a small town
with a bad-seed son
(the abovecited cat-smotherer)
and an ungrateful invalid in-law

her husband runs off
back to the city
with a younger woman

but instead of breaking out
she turns inward
stoically nurturing her ingrates
building a fantasy life in her diary
finding catharsis in competent sculpting

alienating her few lefty friends
with increasingly unconventional
political stances

until in the last 50 pages
based on clues we have to seek
between the lines

her friends all conclude
she's gone mad

and apparently she has