Saturday, January 19, 2013


Auctorial descriptives like Dickensian, Kafkaesque, and Orwellian are easily understood literary adjectives - most people know what these words mean even if they have never read Dickens, Kafka, and Orwell.  There are many other good ones - Joycean, Pinteresque, Proustian, and Ballardian.  But two things I've stumbled upon recently have had me thinking about Patricia Highsmith and what the auctorial descriptive for her would be (and what it would mean).

I just finished reading Out by Natuso Kirino and it is very Highsmithian - or Highsmithic.  Out is the story of four Japanese women who work the night shift in a boxed lunch factory.  One abused woman strangles her husband and the other three help to get rid of the body.  By chopping him up and packing him into 53 plastic bags.  And disposing of the parts in and around Tokyo.  Even though Yayoi has a compelling reason to kill her husband, she is a murderer.  And her three friends aid and abet the crime by butchering him in a bathroom.  So we are essentially following or rooting for flawed, guilty, or bad characters - which seems to be a common theme in Patricia Highsmith's books.  Tom Ripley, Guy and Bruno in Strangers on Train, to name a few.

In Out, much is made about how hard it is to dispose of a human body.  Or to do it well, so you don't get caught.  It reminded me of Tom Ripley's troubles getting rid of bodies in Ripley Under Ground.  Ripley kills a visiting American art collector in the wine cellar of his home in France (while he has a houseguest) and almost farcically has to drag the body up the stairs and across his property to bury it.  Then he has to go back and dig it up and dump it in a river.  And later on, Ripley has to dispose of another body in the Austrian countryside.  He tries to burn it.  But he botches the cremation.  The women in Out do a better job but have similarly difficult time.  And I rooted for both to succeed.  While I have not settled on a good definition of Highsmithic (which I prefer to Highsmithian - I like the -mythic sound), I'd say Out is Higmsithic.  There is much more to the story - the butchering and disposal of the abusive husband is just the start of things.  At times, the suspense and horror in Out were nearly unbearable.  An awesome book, I can't believe it took me almost eight years to read it.

There is a TV show on the ABC Family channel called Pretty Little Liars that I also think is somewhat Highsmithic.  (The show is blantantly Hitchcockian - the references to Psycho have all the subtlety of a hand grenade.)  The series follows what happens to four teen girls after their friend Alison is murdered and after a prank blinds another girl. A shadowy figure known as A torments the girls via text messages and dirty tricks.  The girls try to solve the murder of their friend and unmask A.  If I were a teen girl I would probably think this is the greatest thing on TV.  My wife is a big fan of the show and that is how I came to watch it.  We were watching some old episodes to prepare for the start of the show's winter season when I noticed at the start of an episode that Nate is holding and reading a copy of Patricia Highsmith's The Blunderer.  Nate  has already stalked and killed Maya (who is Emily's love interest) and is now targeting Emily (one of the titular Pretty Little Liars).  He does so by going after Paige, Emily's new love interest.  I haven't read The Blunderer so I don't know what plot elements the show is using from the book but I bet they are there.

And I guess this is a sign that I should read The Blunderer sometime soon.  Perhaps after I finish Grotesque, Natsuo Kirino's follow up to Out.  And now that I have this idea about the Highsmithic in my head, I wonder what else is out there?