Friday, April 25, 2008

Friday Overlooked Book Club: The Price of Salt

I was making my late night rounds and discovered through Josephine Damian’s blog that blogger Patti Abbott has come up with the brilliant idea for The Friday Overlooked Book Club.

This is how Patti describes it:

“This is the first of what I optimistically hope will become Friday recommendations of books we love but might have forgotten over the years. I have asked several people to help me by also remembering a favorite book. Their blog sites are listed below. I also asked each of them to tag someone to recommend a book for next Friday. I'm worried great books of the recent past are sliding out of print and out of our consciousness. Not the first-tier classics we all can name, but the books that come next. Here's my choice.”

You’ll have to go here to see what it is.

This is a great way to put those books that had their three months in the sun back into the spotlight again.

So here is my Friday Overlooked Book Selection:

The Price of Salt, by Patricia Highsmith was written in 1953 under the pseudonym, Claire Morgan. Highsmith (1921 – 1995) was known for her psychological thrillers. Strangers on a Train was adapted to film by Alfred Hitchcock and three of the five Tom Ripley novels she wrote have been adapted to film (only two have been released). Highsmith lived most of her life after 1963 as an expatriate in Europe and although she was highly acclaimed, she was never truly appreciated in the United States until after her death.

The Price of Salt was written after Strangers on a Train, but rejected by her publisher, presumably because of its lesbian content. It was published elsewhere and after its paperback release, sold over a million copies and became a lesbian cult classic.

Many reviewers consider The Price of Salt to be one of the most under recognized and under appreciated novels of the 20th century. Terry Castle of The New Republic wrote:

“I have long had a theory that Nabokov knew The Price of Salt and modeled the climactic cross-country care chase in Lolita on Therese and Carol’s frenzied bid for freedom…Highsmith was the first writer to mix roadside Americana, transgressive sex, and the impinging threat of a morals charge – and she went about it as masterfully as anyone.”
Highsmith’s prose is simple, but elegant:

“ ‘Some things don’t react. But everything’s alive.’ He turned around with a broad smile, as if quite another train of thought had entered his head. He was holding up the match, which was still smoking. ‘Like this match. And I’m not talking about physics, about the indestructibility of smoke. In fact, I feel rather poetic today.’

‘About the match?’

‘I feel as if it were growing, like a plant, not disappearing. I feel everything in the world must have the texture of a plant sometimes to a poet. Even this table, like my own flesh.’ He touched the table edge with his palm. ‘It’s like a feeling I had once riding up a hill on a horse. It was in Pennsylvania. I didn’t know how to ride very well then, and I remember the horse turning his head and seeing the hill, and deciding by himself to run up it, his hind legs sank before we took off, and suddenly we were going like blazes and I wasn’t afraid at all. I felt completely in harmony with the horse and the land, as if we were a whole tree simply being stirred by the wind in its branches. I remember being sure that nothing would happen to me then, but some other time, yes, eventually. And it made me very happy. I thought of all the people who are afraid and hoard things, and themselves, and I thought, when everybody in the world comes to realize what I felt going up that hill, then there’ll be a kind of right economy of living and of using and using up.’”

This was a great book and I plan to read more of Patricia Highsmith.

What are your overlooked book recommendations?


Julie at Virtual Voyage said...

Lisa - you may have picked up I'm in the process of moving over to WordPress. Details on - look forward to seeing you if you drop by.
(Have enjoyed being on blogger, and no problems apart from unreliable uploads, but WP has some attractive features like posting in categories which really appeal to me).

Usman said...

This is interesting. I had my first taste of Patricia Highsmith earlier this month when I read one of her books. Sorry, the name has escaped me for now.Her prose is elegant.

Rebecca Burgess said...

What a wonderful idea.

Intriguing about the Lolita thing. I often wonder about all those unrecognized greats that serve as some launch point for our classics.

Josephine Damian said...

Lisa: Interesting choice. I've read PH and intend to read more of her crime stuff. Was familiar with this book and it's history and influence on LOLITA but was never keen to read it till now.

Did you know PH topped the list on the 50 best crime/mystery writers that just came out?

Strangers on a Train has got to be my favorite Hithcock flick.

"Criss- cross."


Larramie said...

Love the Ripley novels, yet had never heard of "The Price of Salt." For some reason, this makes me wonder if present-day novelists/writers still leave the country?

Travis Erwin said...

I posted mine over at my blog but this tile intrigues me. I've found several "new" novels that I plan to check out including this one.

Lana Gramlich said...

Personally I really liked "Winter's Tale" by Mark Helprin & I think it did really well when it came out, back in the '80s, but no one I've ever recommended it to has ever managed to read it all the way through. Kind of bums me out, really.

Lisa said...

Julie, I will absolutely follow you to WordPress. I use it for my other blog and I agree that there is some flexibility there that blogger doesn't offer. Then there are some things that are easier to do in blogger too -- probably because it's what I'm used to. I'll see you there!

Usman, I like her a lot.

Rebecca, Isn't it? I hope more people do this again next Friday. If you read this, you'll definitely see why people have noted the Lolita similarity.

Josephine, I haven't read any of her other books, but I've seen the two Ripley movies and loved them. And -- I just ordered the Hitchcock DVD. I had to read the description at Amazon to understand the "criss cross" reference and when I did I knew I had to get it.

Larramie, It's understandable that people haven't heard of this one considering it was originally published under her nom de plume and then because of the themes. Good question on expat novelists. I think a fair number still do, but it would be interesting to look into that.

Travis, I checked out yours and it sounds good. Anything that's voicey and darkly humorous is right up my alley!

Lana, I have always wanted to read it and you've convinced me. I just one-clicked so it's on the way. It is pretty long, but if you liked it enough to be bummed out that nobody you recommend it to finished it, I'll pick up the gauntlet!

Billy said...

What a great idea! Arthur C. Clarke collaborated on some sci-fi in his last few years, and some didn't really sell like his classics. One good one that slipped through the cracks was THE LIGHT OF OTHER DAYS, co-authored with Stephen Baxter. The Beatles somehow even made their way into the sci-fi master's book lol. THE PRICE OF SALT sounds very intersting. Will have to look it up. Thanks!

steve said...

Lisa, there are just too many overlooked books around. In the 1970s a British TV series called "The Rivals of Sherlock Holmes" was aired on PBS. (And even though it has stellar performances by some of the best British actors, it's still not available on DVD.) But it introduced me to Ernest Bramah's Max Carrados, the first and best blind detective, R. Austin Freeman's Dr. Thorndyke, who's both a lawyer and a physician, and Martin Hewitt, a sort of anti-Sherlock Holmes--short, plump and affable instead of lean, tall, and aloof. And while I'm in the mystery genre, there's Rex Stout's Alphabet Hicks, the noble but eccentric lawyer-turned cabdriver, who was disbarred for doing the right thing, though we never know what it is.

P.S. Am I going to be the only one left on Blogger? I like it because of the cost (zero). I really don't need all the bells and whistles of more sophisticated providers, so for now, I'm staying put.

Charles Gramlich said...

Cool idea

Vesper said...

I’ve never read anything written by Patricia Highsmith but now I’d really like to and I hope to do it soon. Thank you for a beautiful review. As were your other book reviews, this one too is very heartfelt and compelling.

Barrie said...

Wow. This sounds like an overlooked gem to me. Thanks. This blog idea of overlooked books is brilliant.

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Literary Quote

It is worth mentioning, for future reference, that the creative power which bubbles so pleasantly in beginning a new book quiets down after a time, and one goes on more steadily. Doubts creep in. Then one becomes resigned. Determination not to give in, and the sense of an impending shape keep one at it more than anything.

Virginia Woolf