I read Patricia Highsmith’s Ripley novels (there are five of them, starting with The Talented Mr. Ripley, and they go by the collective name of the Ripliad) years and years ago, before I started this blog. Ever since, I’ve wanted to read more of her books. She was never as popular in the United States as she was in Europe (why?), but it should be perfectly possible to get copies of her other works. So when I saw Nothing That Meets the Eye, this book of her uncollected short stories, on the shelf at the library, I jumped at the chance. Highsmith wrote a lot of short stories and published eight collections during her lifetime. These are just the ones she didn’t consider good enough to make the cut of a collection (but good enough not to destroy.) They’re well-chosen by Norton and a pleasure to read.
If you’ve read any of the Ripley novels or Strangers on a Train, you might know what to expect from a lot of these excellent stories. While there is a variety, many of them are thrillers: mysterious, dark, suspenseful examinations of human psychology. Many of them — not most, by a long shot, but far more than I’d expect in any given collection — end in suicide. Some are about suspicion, others about affairs, others about not knowing what to believe or whom to trust, still others end with a twist. Many consider freedom or authority from an angle you might not expect. A couple — maybe the least successful — take place in Mexico; it’s clear Highsmith knew the country but was not overly sympathetic either to the people of Mexico or to the expatriates living there. Several stories are cheerful and optimistic, framings of unusual human kindness, but not one is sentimental. Fewer than I would expect are about women: the typical Highsmith protagonist seems to have been a man in his mid-thirties. I loved lots of them, but maybe especially “A Doorbell for Louisa,” “The Pianos of the Steinachs” and “A Bird in Hand” (that one especially for its portrait of a sort of Robin Hood of parakeets.)
I’m really glad I read this collection. It makes me want to read more of her novels, because the stories were consistently high-quality, insightful of human nature, and often interestingly dark. Besides the Ripley novels, I’ve only read The Blunderer so far. Have any of you read others of hers? Would you recommend any to begin with?