Wednesday, May 02, 2007


Sometimes it is just better to stop. I am in the middle of Found in the Street by Patricia Highsmith and for the first time with one of her books, I just don’t want to finish it. Something about the sentences feel labored and worked over and Highsmith’s usual slow burn is just a limp this time.

In a bookstall near NYU I found this kicky little British paperback. I snapped it up and promptly put it away behind a chair on top of a stack of my boy’s Believers, far away from all the other books and destined to be forgotten until a time of need. Well, that TON was last week after a string of disappointing reads. I wanted something creepy but distant seeming, like Poe, but smart like Shirley or Shelley Jackson. I also happened to have that chair in my sight line. Satisfaction was guaranteed, except, well, not exactly.

The main character, Jack, is a man fascinated by the women in his life and he idolizes them ridiculously. Every behavior this guy shows seems to be a rationalization; a reaction to an agreement about “freedom” he made with his wife and child’s mother, Natalia. Say it with me kids, Natahhhhleeeaaaaaaaaa. Natty, by the way, is supposed to be beguiling with her art and possible bisexuality and all, but she just comes off as a somewhat heartless scenester. These flaws don’t deepen the character as they do in, for example Strangers on a Train, they seem like tics on Highsmith’s part or like she was trying to explore something that didn’t work out and just published the B-grade remains.

In particular, this book’s physical character descriptions of women are so weird it is distracting. “She was at least forty-five, and some needed makeup, but underneath, as they say, she was not the made-up type.” Who is they? What do they say? So-and-so doesn’t wear make-up, so-and-so wears this kind of make-up, so-and-so is a natural beauty who didn’t need make-up. Whaaaaaa? Part of this may be that though this book was published in the 80s, it has a distinctly sixties feel, even with a mention of AIDS and an out out out character. She was presumably living overseas when she wrote this, having left America in disgust in 1963, and the New York in this book seems frozen during that time of bohemians in the Village and dirty little secrets just peeking out from under the buttoned-up denim of America.

Maybe sometime I will have the patience to finish this book, disappointing as it is, and just enjoy the tiny bits of Highsmith charm that pop up here and there, but for now: ABANDONED!!!


ctheokas said...

I felt the same way about The Brothers Karamazov. I don't think I made it more than 1/10th of the way through before I got disgusted with it. The writing was surprisingly amateurish - the kind you'd get chastized for in a freshman creative writing class. I was blogging about the experience, and I promised at least 100 pages, but eventually, I couldn't do it.

Carrie said...

Now, I have never read BK, but I know that sometimes works in translation can seem stupid where they are meant to be simple.

With FitS though, there is no translation to be blamed. Or a passage of a century.

So, my main Sci-fi guy, got any suggestions for me?

moonlight ambulette said...

so interesting! i was just considering whether or not to abandon this fat henry james book i'm stalled in the middle of. it's really good, and i like it, but i just don't have energy for a big novel like this now. but then again, i feel really guilty when i abandon i almost never do. what to do, what to do...

ctheokas said...

I gotta say that with BK, there's no way a translator could save it. There's just too much structurally that's wrong with it. That's not to say that Fyodor is a bad writer. I just think he peaked with Crime & Punishment. Not that I'm a FD scholar or anything.