Tuesday, January 26, 2021

Quote of the Day (Patricia Highsmith, on January, ‘A Two-Faced Month’)

“January. It was all things. And it was one thing, like a solid door. Its cold sealed the city in a gray capsule. January was moments, and January was a year. January rained the moments down, and froze them in her memory: the woman she saw peering anxiously by the light of a match at the names in a dark doorway, the man who scribbled a message and handed it to his friend before they parted on the sidewalk, the man who ran a block for a bus and caught it. Every human action seemed to yield a magic. January was a two-faced month, jangling like jester's bells, crackling like snow crust, pure as any beginning, grim as an old man, mysteriously familiar yet unknown, like a word one can almost but not quite define.”—American novelist and short-story writer Patricia Highsmith (1921-1995), The Price of Salt (1952)

Last week marked what would have been the 100th birthday of Patricia Highsmith. For the longest time, she was known for two psychological thrillers adapted into classic films by Alfred Hitchcock (Strangers on a Train) and Anthony Minghella (The Talented Mr. Ripley).

Yet only over time—and especially after intrepid biographers worked mightily through her abundant published and unpublished writings, separating fact from fiction—would the outlines of an author as tortured in her private life as Edgar Allan Poe, H.P. Lovecraft, or Shirley Jackson emerge.  

Five years ago, a novel in a far different vein from her best-known novels of suspense, featuring a lesbian romance that she wrote under a pseudonym, was translated to the big screen: The Price of Salt, retitled Carol, directed by Todd Haynes and starring Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara. 

Leafing through the book recently in a larger anthology of Highsmith’s work, I was much taken by the above description, and thought it would use it while I still had the chance this month.

For a fascinating overview of the multiple treatments of her work by Hollywood, please see this blog post from the American Film Institute from a couple of weeks ago.

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