Patricia Highsmith, Much Crazier than You

All writers fear they are a bit crazy. Some of them are. Obviously, I am at the hardly-crazy-at-all end of the crazy-writer scale, most other writers are much loopier than me. While that is clearly a fact, I confess that I have my moments of doubt. I have found just the cure for those moments of doubt: Patricia Highsmith.

I am reading the new bio, The Talented Miss Highsmith by Joan Schenkar. Oh my. Oh wow. Oh Elvis. Highsmith redefines the crazy end of the crazy-writer scale. I have a million different responses to this book, but one is relief. Cause no matter how crazy I might (rarely) fear I am, Miss Highsmith will always be much much much much worse. Because she’s not just crazy, she’s mean crazy. She’s curse-out-everyone-at-your-favourite-restaurant crazy. Throw-a-dead-rat-in-your-room crazy. You know, not even slightly charmingly eccentric.

*Heh hem* I must get back to it. Best bio I’ve read in ages. So glad I never ever met Highsmith.

But, yeah, if you’re feeling loopy, read this bio. You’ll feel much much better.


  1. JJ on #

    We published that book here at St. Martin’s Press! Needless to say, we are very proud of it. 🙂

  2. Stephanie Leary on #

    Just reading a review of it made me feel better about my mental health.

  3. veejane on #

    What I recall from reading a novel or two of Highsmith’s was thinking, “Dude. Therapy.” And when you can do that just reading an author’s novel, that’s some pretty heavy-duty therapy that’s needed.

    (I felt the same way about Hardy, which is why I don’t read Hardy any more. “Here, have some Prozac!” is not the reaction he was going for, I think.)

    M. E. Kerr, the now-YA novelist (former many different kinds of novelist), knew Highsmith pretty well in the 50s — I think they dated –, and described her at one point as a sociopath.

  4. Justine on #

    JJ: Congrats. It’s epic.

    Stephanie: I do recommend the book.

    veejane: Sadly the affair with M. E. Kerr is not mentioned. I’m a huge M. E. Kerr fan. I’da loved to have seen her name. On the other hand, poor M. E. Kerr.

    I’m always very suspicious of the whole speculating about a writer’s sanity based on their fiction. I’ve written some heavy duty crazy characters that does not make me crazy. I admit I was kind of hoping that the unrelenting bleakness and misanthropy of Highsmith’s books—of which I am a fan—was just characterisation. And Price of Salt/Carol, her one love story, is not at all like the other books. I had hope for Highsmith.

    Alas and alack. M. E. Kerr was probably right about her. At least she killed people in fiction rather than in real life.

  5. Brynne on #

    My grandma always says that “there are only two sane people in this world – you and me – and sometimes I’m not so sure about you.” 😛

  6. Susan on #

    You might know this, or not, but M.E. Kerr is a pseudonym used by Marijane Meaker. Don’t know if she makes an appearance in the Highsmith biography, but she did write a memoir of her own experiences:

    Highsmith: A Romance of the 1950s by Marijane Meaker

  7. Justine on #

    Susan: Oh! Marijane Meaker = M.E. Kerr?! I did not know. She absolutely does make an appearance in the bio. A long one. And her writing is discussed, but not that she ever wrote YA.

    M.E. Kerr was one of the first writers I read when I got back into YA as an adult. I think she’s a genius.

  8. veejane on #

    Oh, yes. I also happen to have a copy of We Walk Alone by Ann Aldrich — a dramatic psychobiography/defense of lesbianism, written in the 50s. (It and its companion book were recently reissued by the Feminist Press.) Ann Aldrich is another of Marijane Meaker’s pseuds.

    So is Ralph Meeker, writer of 1950s fiction. I think there were a couple of other (male) pseuds in use for her pulp novels, too, but those are the most famous.

  9. Justine on #

    veejane: I am so ignorant! All I know of her is the M.E. Kerr books, which I love.

  10. Tania Roxborogh on #

    Hi Justine
    When I studied literature at university, I concluded I could never become a writer because I was not crazy enough.

    But the look on the face of the young girl at the stables yesterday when I told her that I ‘needed to get back to Norwary cos my girl was about to escape on Sven’s horse and she only had a rope’ told me that I had offically become loopy.

    I wonder also what people think when they read my facebook updates and I say similar stuff.

    I made complete sense to myself because that’s the other world I’m inhabiting at the moment (11th C Europe)

Comments are closed.