15 February, 2015

As an Expert in Lesbian Pulp Novels. . .

As an antidote to the unfortunate macho postering of Nick Pizzolotta's Galveston I picked up Patricia Highsmith's The Price of Salt.

I don't know what you've heard, but this Patricia Highsmith character can write the hell out of a book. And I don't care who knows it! Even though it isn't a book about murder or sociopaths (I think there's only one possible sociopath in the book), it still managed to keep my attention. But that doesn't need to be said. The book claims to be a "masterwork" right on the cover. It also claims that Nabokov ripped it off for Lolita in the same sentence so, like a lot of my criticism, I don't see the need in taking on The Price of Salt from the front.

What I'm impressed most by is the importance of correspondence in the novel.

To a person who has sent, maybe, three personal letters in his his entire life, to see this many people send this many letters over this many miles is utterly foreign to me. Reading about mercenaries in Africa or Nazi hunters makes more sense to me, is more familiar to me, than to send a letter to somebody on vacation not knowing where exactly they are. I mean, who forwards letters? Who has the time for that?

And that's what most of the last third of the novel is about. As much as it's about bouncing around the USA in a car (something I am deeply familiar with), it's also about people's words bouncing back and forth to each other. Entire relationships are formed and dissolved based on what people write in letters. This also means that most of the "action" in the book is based around people stopping what they're doing, sitting down, and processing what other people are saying. It's an interesting way to tell a story and it speaks to Highsmith's skill that she manages to ring this much enjoyment out of an idea that sounds so tedious on paper.

I suppose that's the other thing I am impressed by. I am impressed by how much nothing happens in this book. And I mean nothing. Long stretches of it. Not that it's a bad thing. Highsmith has a wonderful grasp of the English language, and like my favorite authors, she has a beautiful handle on the inner workings of human beings. As much as I love procedural novels and books about people moving through the motions, I also love how this book seems to be about people going on about their day. Going to work. Going to a bar. Writing a letter. Then, POW, a gun and lesbians sleeping with each other are introduced within the span of ten pages. It's like it was making up for lost time.

I guess there's also a learning experience in the doomed relationship of Richard and Therese, but that's another entry for another day.

Also, what's that title actually supposed to mean? I haven't felt this confused about a book's title since The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp. As a title Carol makes more sense and even then that title doesn't exactly tell me anything.

James Kislingbury is a writer, a podcast, and an aspiring set designer.