“Almost unputdownable. Miss Highsmith writes about men like a spider
writing about flies.”
Still reeling from The Blunderer, a mystery by Patricia Highsmith. It’s my reading group’s next selection and I, for better or worse, picked it up this evening — and found it totally “unputdownable.” Dark and sinister as it proved to be, Patricia is an amazing writer. She’s best known for The Talented Mr. Ripley series, and after reading The Blunderer, I can only imagine what its main character must be like. No, wait — I don’t think I want to imagine it!
Wow! Having just motored my way through three-quarters of a hypnotically riveting novel in a matter of hours, I’ve been pondering just exactly how the talented Miss Highsmith managed to hook and reel me in. Here are some first impressions:
• She begins with an ordinary suburban setting and a seemingly ordinary couple with serious marital problems. The husband’s a lawyer and the wife’s a real estate agent. So the story is grounded in a very realistic and predictable scenario, which then veers off darkly.
• She conjures up a brittle, unlikable, neurotic and demanding wife, who browbeats her hapless, unhappy husband. By constructing an extremely unpleasant foil to the protagonist — the husband — Highsmith enlists our sympathy for him from the opening pages. We feel sorry for the schlub and find the affair he embarks on totally understandable — we even wish him well.
• She sets us up: When the poor protagonist begins to make one blunder after another, with Highsmith’s artful guidance, we see them coming. We want to warn him again and again, “No, don’t do it!” It’s hard to tell whether the guy is really a dummy or if he’s just blindly making one dumb mistake after another — an intriguing reader dilemma.
• She creates not one, but two, malevolent figures. Like two grinding stones, between them, they crush the poor protagonist to smithereens. Highsmith’s evil twins — one a policeman and the other a murderer — are very compelling and believable, which makes them all the more sinister.
What a fascinating read! I’m sure there’s a lot to be learned from it. Always so interesting to analyze what makes a page turner tick as we all write on.