By Joan Schenkar
An extraordinary biography of a very strange person. Organized thematically, it ranges over Patricia Highsmith's life without being slavish to chronology. In fact, the author thoughtfully provides a chronological summary to help those who feel a bit lost.
Every one of the pages of this long book (over 560 pages with appended material) is worth the time. This is not a literary biography in the strict sense, but it explains a good deal about the odd place in the imagination called, by Ms. Schenkar, "Highsmith country" and helps us begin to understand how the odd people we meet in her books got that way.
There is a great deal of detail about Highsmith's loves, her mixed relationship with her mother, her frugality, her bigotry, and her inability to tolerate ease or comfort in her life. All of this is attested by the material in her "cahiers" as Highsmith called her notebooks. Sometimes Ms. Schenkar seems to drift too far from the evidence in her conclusions, but the ideas she presents are entertaining, if speculative.
Ms. Schenkar has no illusions about her subject's questionable hold on humanity, but she makes us feel some sympathy for this intriguing woman.