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The Blunderer by Patricia Highsmith

Blunderer.jpgI've long been interested in Patricia Highsmith, largely because of the number of films based on her books, including the excellent Carol (based on Highsmith's The Price of Salt.) Now that I've read one of her crime thrillers, however, I'm not sure I'm going to like her books. The Blunderer was her third published novel -- a crime novel about three repulsive characters being cruel to each other. I admit the structure is quite interesting, but I found the execution a little repetitious.

The basic set-up is that the story opens with a man murdering his wife at a cross-country bus stop. We then switch to the protagonist, Walter Stackhouse , who is a lapdog to his neurotic harridan of a wife, Clara. I guess I should say the novel is about four repulsive characters being cruel to each other, but Clara really only interacts with Walter, not the other two main characters. One of those two is Melchior Kimmel, an obese, mostly blind dealer in collectible books who is suspected of being the murderer of the wife that we saw in the opening chapter. Walter visits him through some bizarre compulsion after Clara dies under similar circumstances, although apparently by suicide. The fourth protagonist is the police detective, Lawrence Corby, who starts investigating Clara's death and then becomes fascinated by the Kimmel case, too. Like all the other characters, Corby has an ugly and possibly psychotic personality. He hammers at both Walter and Kimmel, including physically torturing the latter, in an attempt to get them to confess to the murders.

And that's pretty much the material of the novel. These four characters go at it over and over, chewing on each other like a dog on a bone. That's the part that I found repetitive after a while. Highsmith repeatedly soaks the reader in these charged episodes of people being psychologically (and sometimes physically) abusive to each other, while Walter blunders from one idiotic misstep to another under Corby and Kimmel's pressure. What's interesting is that who is guilty and who isn't almost becomes moot after a while. Everyone is guilty, at least in their own minds. Desires and paranoia and dominance games abound. Highsmith keeps it interesting enough with the intricate, submerged parallels between the Kimmel and Stackhouse cases, and then by capping it off with a satisfyingly bloody, apocalyptic ending. But I found it a slog to get to the ending.

On the other hand, this does make me more interested in The Price of Salt, since the movie is intricately psychological in its own right and isn't a genre crime novel. This one may have suffered from the demands of genre.


( 1 comment — Leave a comment )
Jan. 6th, 2017 05:01 pm (UTC)
I was going to say, why not try a novel that was used for a movie you liked, but you've already decided to do that. ;)

( 1 comment — Leave a comment )

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