My Month of Crime Fiction: The Talented Mr. Ripley by Patricia Highsmith Talented Mr. Ripley (1955) by Patricia Highsmith

I'm sensing a pattern here. The crime fiction I'm reading is coming in pairs- pretty creepy. First, I read two novels written by men from the perspective of a private investigator, and then I read two books written by women from the perspective of a male serial killer. To this I say: iiiiiinnnnnteresting...

But I'll think more about that later, because The Talented Mr. Ripley is in the spotlight at the moment. And oh MAN what a book. Highsmith's style is superbly subtle, nuanced, almost lyrical at times. It's the kind of writing that makes itself transparent so that only the story exists (what someone once said is the mark of the best kind of writing- sorry, I forgot who said that).

As with In a Lonely Place, the reader of Ripley inhabits the mind of the main character (the murderous dude) but without the added emotional burden that would come with a first-person narration. In other words, there's enough space between the reader and main character that the former can step back and consider the unfolding events more objectively (or so I'd argue). And yet, we follow Tom Ripley's mental meanderings as he develops a strategy first for capitalizing on his free trip to Europe and then assuming the identity of Richard "Dickie" Greenleaf after murdering the original owner.

Whether or not Highsmith was riffing off of Dreiser in An American Tragedy when writing the murder-in-the-boat scene, I don't know, but Highsmith's version was a heck of a lot creepier. Even the second murder made my flesh crawl. I think that's because Ripley kills his victims so awkwardly and brutally. Nothing about them is romanticized or stylized. It's just Ripley slamming an object into another person's head and neck repeatedly until that person is dead. It's horrific and revolting and exactly right for this novel.

For Ripley, despite his belief in his own abilities and confidence, is awkward and uncertain, burdened by rage, frustration, longing, and loneliness. He's pitiful but murderous, and thinks about his victims simply as inconveniences. It's not that Ripley is unfeeling- no, he feels deeply and strongly, but only about himself. He has become so insular and alienated that he switches back and forth between his own identity and Greenleaf's as if he's playing with an imaginary friend. Greenleaf was his last chance for companionship, and his rejection of Ripley is what ultimately pushes the latter over the edge.

I only learned recently that The Talented Mr. Ripley is just the first novel in a series, together called the Ripliad. You'd better believe I'll be getting my paws on those novels.

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