Thursday, February 03, 2011

6. This Sweet Sickness by Patricia Highsmith

This Sweet Sickness doesn't rank amongst my favourite of her works and at some point I even found it a bit trying. But it does pick up by the second half and ultimately she delivers a succesful tale of a man driven mad by his obsession with a woman. She is such a master at writing about what is going on inside the head of a crazy person. It's not just the internal dialogue, but subtle little clues, like sudden surges of energy or erroneous perceptions (that the reader is aware of).

I did have one exciting moment that sadly turned out to be not so exciting. The basic story is that a scientist, David Kelsey, pines after the woman he left behind in his town (to make money to be able to marry her). She ends up going out with another guy and then marrying him and the "protagonist" can't let go, to the point that he has bought another house and spends every weekend there, preparing for her eventual arrival in that home. He sends letters to her and eventually harrases her enough that her husband comes out to confront him. They get in a scuffle and the husband falls and hits his head on the concrete porch stairs and dies.

Kelsey drives to the police station and pretends he doesn't know the guy. And here is where I flipped out. "He [David Kelsey] said that the man had arrived at his house in a belligerent mood, addressed him as Parker or something like that, and eventually pulled a gun."

It sure seemed like a potential Highsmith/Westlake connection. I was actually jumping up and down and shouting at my wife "I think Patricia Highsmith may have read Parker!" I was under the impression that This Sweet Sickness was written in 1970 and I went on a flurry of google searching, which then made me realize that the paperback I was reading was released in 1970, but the book was originally written in 1960, years before The Hunter came out. :(

It sure does sound like a reference to Parker, though doesn't it? I mean isn't he always attracting beligerrent dudes with guns coming looking for him?

My wife did offer one appeasement to my disappointment. Perhaps Westlake had read This Sweet Sickness and the name had stuck in his head? The name Parker comes up twice more in that section as he continues to lie to the cops. Highsmith and Westlake were contemporaries. Can anybody find evidence that one may have read the other on the web?


Craig D. said...

This Sweet Sickness is the only Highsmith on my shelf that hasn't been read yet. It'll be my next, but I'm apprehensive about it. I've found that my opinion is usually at odds with the majority when it comes to any author's best novels, and Highsmith is no different. Critics routinely dismiss the Ripley sequels and claim that The Tremor of Forgery is either her best or one of her best, but I find Ripley's Game to be her best and The Tremor of Forgery is my least favorite of the ones I've read. This Sweet Sickness is commonly called one of her best, so you can see why I'm keeping my expectations low. Your review puts me even more on guard.

As for a possible Highsmith/Stark connection, I doubt it. Highsmith claimed that she didn't read many of her contemporaries, or much crime fiction at all. She was a huge fan of Dostoyevsky, but of all the writers who I know she read and admired, the closest to a contemporary crime author was Camus. (Not really a crime writer at all, although there are shades of The Talented Mr. Ripley and The Tremor of Forgery in The Stranger.) I know that Graham Greene was a friend of hers and he was quite fond of her fiction, but I don't know if she even read his at all.

By the way, although I haven't read Sickness yet, there was a fine adaptation done for The Alfred Hitchcock Hour, aka Alfred Hitchcock Presents, under the title "Annabel." It's mostly just decent, but Dean Stockwell is pretty terrific as Kelsey. It can be found on YouTube if you're interested.

OlmanFeelyus said...

Great comment, Craig. I really appreciate the info (though sad that you have shattered my dreams of a Westlake/Highsmith connection). I'll watch that "Annabel" at some point for sure.

I don't really have a favourite Highsmith yet. It's because I don't really have any kind of structure in my mind as to the order of her books, beyond the division of her Ripley books and all the rest. One of these days I'll sit down and pay attention to their chronology and themes.

I have yet to read The Tremor of Forgery, but I will bear your comments in mind when I do.