Slightly Off Track

Patricia Highsmith (1921-1995) was born in Ft Worth, Texas, an only child. Her parents split 10 days before she was born. It was no secret that Patricia had been an unwanted child. Her mother had no problems telling everyone how she drank turpentine when pregnant with Patricia hoping to abort. Feeling rejected, Patricia had a strong love-hate relationship with her mother.

Two men meet on a train. One man, Guy, is an amateur tennis star whereas the other, Bruno, is a charming psychopath. To pass the time, the men starting talking. Bruno reveals that he has a perfect murder scheme—two strangers meet and swap murders. That is, Bruno would kill Guy’s unfaithful wife and, in exchange, Guy would kill Bruno’s despised father. The film, “Strangers on a Train”, directed by Hitchcock, was based on a book by Patricia Highsmith.

In 1927, she moved with her mom and new step-dad to NYC. But the chemistry was bad so, at the age of 12, Patricia was sent to live with her grandmother who had a boarding house full of books. Patricia’s grandmother taught her grand-daughter how to read. Reading led to writing and the desire to study more.

After college, using excellent recommendations, she tried for a job writing but was constantly rejected. But thanks to Truman Capote, she was accepted at the Yaddo artist’s retreat the summer of 1948. And thanks to this, she worked on her first novel, “Strangers on a Train”. It was published in 1950 and immediately picked up by Alfred Hitchcock for his film of the same name facilitating Pat’s climb to success. However, earning as a writer had never been easy.

In the 1940s, writing script for comics was a good way for writers to earn an income and was, for several years, Pat’s main source of income even though, years later, she would try to obliterate her comic past. Because now she was an author, and no longer a writer.

Many of “The Black Terror” stories were written by Pat. “Black Terror” was the name given to a superhero modelled on Superman but without the glamour. The Black Terror’s real identity was that of Bob Benton, a pharmacist who accidentally created a formula giving him super powers.

Black Terror’s superpower is his bullet-repelling skin. And his goal is to obliterate evil starting with crushing the Nazis. But by the end of WWII, superheroes began to fade away. And that’s when Pat began inventing superheroes of her own. She wanted to show “the unequivocal triumph of evil over good and rejoicing in it. I shall make my readers rejoice I it too.” And she did exactly that with the invention of Tom Ripley.

Pat was a Lesbian who disliked women. In 1975, she published Little Tales of Misogyny (with surrealistic illustrations by Roland Topor), a collection of short stories written with the logic of a misogynist. One such story is “The Dancer”.

Claudette and Rodolphe dance together professionally. In their routine, Rodolphe pretends to strangle Claudette but stops his raptus in time then joyfully frees Claudette in the end. But the dance routine changes hen Rodolphe discovers that Claudette has been cheating on him. Now the raptus is real and Rodolphe does nothing to control his anger. “He had strangled her, too tightly for her to cry out. Rodolphe walked off the little stage, and left Claudette for other people to pick up.”

-30-

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