📚 What to Read Next (No. 209): Patricia Highsmith
Highlighting a genius, plus a bite-sized review of a new mystery.
Welcome, new readers! I’m so glad you found this newsletter; no matter your reading tastes, I’m sure you’ll find a great read either in this edition or in the archives. I’d love to hear what YOU are reading and enjoying, so be sure to drop me a line!
Patricia Highsmith is best known for her psychological thrillers—especially the Ripley series, which starts with The Talented Mr. Ripley. Her work has long been on my radar, but it wasn’t until this week that I dove into her most well-known character’s psychotic psyche.
The reason I finally took that plunge is because of the recent publication of Highsmith’s diaries and notebooks. After a quick flip through its short, energetic passages, I was hooked.
Today, I have reviews of both of those books.
Plus, I have a bite-sized review of a brand new psychological thriller, which certainly has elements of Highsmith’s influence.
First, though, is a fun bit of news about The Big Read: earlier this week, my book club was featured on the Substack blog:
It was a really fun interview and, of course, it’s great to see more love for War and Peace out there!
Two quick things:
It’s not too late to sign up and start reading! It’s surprisingly easy to catch up on.
I’m already working on ‘23’s list of books, which so far includes Lonesome Dove, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, and The Count of Monte Cristo (I’ll be doing more books per year in the future), so get on the free list if you want to stay up-to-date on The Big Read:
The Talented Mr. Ripley by Patricia Highsmith
Published: 1955 | Pages: 270
What an unexpected delight this was! I had no expectations going into it, which made Ripley even more enjoyable.
It’s a combination of an exotic, relaxing vacation to the Italian riviera and a dark journey into the crazed and chaotic mind of a psychopath. We’re cruising along, enjoying Italy’s beaches and markets and lazy dinners, and then BAM! Tom Ripley does something crazy.
You really don’t need to know much about the outline of the plot—I knew nothing about it going in (hadn’t even seen the popular movie) and was pulled into the story right away.
We have three main characters, all of them just entering adulthood: Tom Ripley (con man), Dickie Greenleaf (a wannabe artist on an extended pleasure trip), and Marge (the interloper—sort of). They’re all wonderfully drawn by Highsmith; my own loyalties shifted quite a bit throughout the novel, which is perfect for this genre.
The plot starts a touch slow (not in a bad way, though), but by the middle it becomes a breakneck cat-and-mouse game with heavy doses of paranoia and impersonation. I was genuinely shocked a couple times and had no idea what was going to happen at the end, other than knowing that Ripley sticks around, in some form or another, for four more books.
Never too bloody or graphic, The Talented Mr. Ripley is a really fun, psychologically taut thriller that’ll keep you on your toes. I definitely plan on reading the rest of the series.
Patricia Highsmith: Her Diaries and Notebooks: 1941-1995 edited by Anna von Planta
Published: 2021 | Pages: 1,024
It should be noted at the outset here that I’m only a couple hundred pages into this book. I’ve been reading a few pages at a time, more days than not, which has slowly been adding up to an enlightening picture of a mid-century genius who chose to write thrillers—an unusual genre of choice for a writer of her caliber.
For the past couple decades, editor Anna von Planta has been pouring through thousands of pages of Highsmith’s notebooks and diaries and has produced a cohesive, powerful volume of the essential pieces.
There are two types of entries contained within: diary passages and notebook writings.
The diaries are about her personal life: the travails of forbidden love (being a young lesbian wasn’t easy back then, especially in the ‘40s and ‘50s), annoyances about her lack of motivation or productivity, what she thinks of the books she’s reading and early thoughts on her own writings.
The notebook entries are a bit more scattered, but the thoughts are a bit more put together—still raw, but clearly there’s some intention in the sentences. There are ideas and questions about love, meaning, making the most of life, etc.
This is a really fun and even inspiring read, especially for writers; there’s a lot to relate to in Highsmith’s diary entries.
I have an interview with Anna von Planta coming up in a couple weeks; you’ll be the first to know!
Twenty Years Later by Charlie Donlea
Published: 2021 | Pages: 357
The premise of this one grabbed me right away:
Avery Mason, host of American Events, knows the subjects that grab a TV audience's attention. Her latest story—a murder mystery laced with kinky sex, tragedy, and betrayal—is guaranteed to be ratings gold. New DNA technology has allowed the New York medical examiner's office to make its first successful identification of a 9/11 victim in years. The twist: the victim, Victoria Ford, had been accused of the gruesome murder of her married lover. In a chilling last phone call to her sister, Victoria begged her to prove her innocence.
There are a lot of threads in this plot, but Donlea weaves it all together really well. The characters aren’t perfectly formed, but they’re developed enough to root for—and to keep you on your toes. There are a number of satisfying twists and turns and I definitely didn’t predict the shocking final pages, which upended the story I was telling myself.
Twenty Years Later is a fast-paced read with just enough depth to keep you invested in what’s going on. If you’re in a reading rut, this is a great rut buster!
Thanks so much for reading—I deeply appreciate the time and inbox space.
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