One of my favorite “guilty pleasure” writers to read (“guilty” in that enough of my creative writing professors rolled their eyes when I mentioned her name that I learned soon enough to keep my mouth shut about her) is Patricia Highsmith (writer of all the Ripley Books and Strangers on a Train). I’ve always been able to pick up stacks of her books at Half Price stores and library book sales for only a couple of bucks. And there are so many of them, too! All of them filled with morally corrupt characters who all seem incapable of any human feelings at all–and yet so determined to fake being human! Many of the stories, and novels, would be classified as suspense dramas, or maybe crime thrillers, but I really enjoyed them for the prose more than the plot. It’s as if Highsmith herself were incapable–like her characters–of describing human emotions. As a result, the characters wandered through exotic lands (a remote beach in Africa, a small town in Italy), often alone, meeting up with colorful locals (and awful American tourists) with usually catastrophic results (you can count on at least one dead body to pop up in a Highsmith story). The language just seems so stripped down in a Highsmith story. Like the characters just want to get themselves down on the page before someone has the chance to delete them. And they always end up rooting themselves in those exotic locales until they do enough damage that they have no other choice but to move on.
So imagine my surprise when, one day, after reading her stories for years, I happened upon Highsmith’s Wikipedia page. And where was this writer of stripped down killers who visit exotic locales from? Fort Worth, Texas. Yup, gateway to the West. City where cattle drives still take place daily. The same city where I live now. I’d seen dozens of author photos of her, of course. Most often black and white, usually a cigarette poised in one hand, a subdued cardigan sweater buttoned up to the neck. She just always looked so (forgive me, Jackie) British to me. Or maybe it was her characters’ adherence to proper social graces (and their willingness to kill in order to maintain a proper tea time, or to punish someone who wears the wrong kind of trousers with their cashmere blazer) that led me to think of her as British.
But a Texan? Really? Granted, it seems she high-tailed it out to NYC (and eventually to Europe) as soon as she reached adulthood. But there’s a good chance those years in Fort Worth made some sort of impression on her as a writer. And it’s made me wonder what sort of writer a Texas writer is. Is there a commonality that exists? Some linking characteristic?
– Laura Kopchick