Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Patricia Highsmith / The Female Novelist

Patricia Highsmith
She has total recall. It is all sex. She is on her third marriage now, having dropped three children on the way, but none by her present husband. Her cry is: ‘Listen to my past! It is more important than my present. Let me tell you what an absolute swine my last husband (or lover) was.’
Her past is like an undigested, perhaps indigestible meal which sits upon her stomach. One wishes she could simply vomit and forget it.
She writes reams about how many times she, or her woman rival, jumped into bed with her husband. And how she paced the floor, sleepless – virtuously denying herself the consolation of a drink – while her husband spent the night with the other woman, flagrantly, etc. and to hell with what friends and neighbours thought. Since the friends and neighbours were either incapable of thinking or were uninterested in the situation, it doesn’t matter what they thought. One might say that this is the time for a novelist’s invention, for creating thought and public opinion where there is none, but the female novelist doesn’t bother inventing. It is all starck as a jock-strap.
After three woman friends have seen and praised the manuscript, saying it is ‘just like life,’ and the male and female characters names have been changed four times, much to the detriment of the manuscript’s appearance, and after one man friend (a prospective lover) has read the first page and returned the manuscript saying he has read it all and adores it – the manuscript goes off to a publisher. There is a quick, courteous rejection.
She begins to be more cautious, secures entrées via writer acquaintances, vague, hedged-about recommendations obtained at the expense of winy lunches and dinners.
Rejection after rejection, none the less.
‘I know my story is important!’ she says to her husband.
‘So is the life of the mouse here, to him – or maybe her,’ he replies. He is a patient man, but nearly at the end of his nerves with all this.
‘What mouse?’
‘I talk to a mouse nearly every morning when I’m in the bathtub. I think his or her problem is food. They’re a pair. Either one or the other comes out of the hole – there’s a hole in the corner of the bathroom – then I get them something from the refrigerator.’
‘You’re wandering. What’s that got to do with my manuscript?’
‘Just that mice are concerned with a more important subject – food. Not with wether your ex-husband was unfaithful to you, or whether you suffered from it, even in a setting as beautiful as Capri or Rapallo. Which gives me an idea.’
‘What?’ she asks, somewhat anxiously.
Her husband smiles for the first time in several months. He experiences a few seconds of peace. There is not the clicking of the typewriter in the house. His wife is actually looking at him, waiting to hear what has to say. ‘You figure that one out. You’re the one with imagination. I won’t be in for dinner.’
Then he leaves the flat, taking his address book and – optimistically – a pair of pyjamas and a toothbrush.
She goes and stares at the typewriter, thinking that perhaps here is another novel, just from this evening, and should she scrap the novel she had fussed over for so long and start this new one? Maybe tonight? Now? Who is he going to sleep with?

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