One of the most misunderstood writers of the 20th century was Patricia Highsmith, born in Texas and living in New York. Highsmith practically created the “anti-hero” protagonist we love so much today. Read its psychological mysteries and you can see the bits of all of today’s thrillers like “Gone Girl” take root. His own life was a messy, unhappy mess. This rough terrain map left her undesirable and with a reputation as a “difficult” person. After starting to read his writings, one can clearly see that the search for identity was quite often his own (“Carol” or “The Price of Salt”). His difficulty with American publishers led to his popularity in Europe and particularly England, as his existential thrillers made their sinister leads much more interesting through Freudian levels of analysis.
His debut novel “Strangers on a Train” was a modest success that Alfred Hitchcock turned into a classic film. However, it’s the five-book series beginning with his definitive work “The Talented Mr. Ripley” in 1955 that really shows off his captivating storytelling and talent for characterization.
Tom Ripley. Supernatural crook. Earns trust while using his milquetoast anonymity to steal identities and run scams with government credentials. Knowledge is a weapon. His imagination knows how to press record to record details to dazzle others later or allay suspicion. Knowledge is a shield. Given his own lack of identity, Tom is protected by who he knows and what he knows about them. Tom rarely has his own needs in mind, but knows how to play at a level of familiarity that simply allows him to receive what he wants. His life isn’t so much a scam, as his lack of “life” gives him the freedom and the mantle to be in the crowd of day-to-day life. His Achilles heel is the constant paranoia of being found out and knowing how quickly it could spread through the hoi polloi.
Looking further into his fractured mental vision, on the ship to Mongibello to retrieve Richard “Dickie” Greenleaf for his parents, he longs for anonymity. The more he cultivates this “negative image” of himself, the more his inner dialogues conclude with the rationalization of a fresh start once he returns to the United States in six weeks. Buying a cap from a haberdashery opens the possibility for him to actually become a series of different people.
Highsmith’s writing is elegantly simple. Assume the inner voice of the character and take the position of somewhat omniscient narrator from there. In the gripping ‘Strangers on a Train’ (her first work to achieve fame and to be made into a movie), she captures the ongoing battle between projecting what those around you want to see of you and protecting the deepest (and most often grim) “first thoughts” we have when we are not ourselves. A character from Highsmith is a study in Freudian tendencies. With the tension constantly mounting over the smallest infractions, we see even the characters breaking from within. Like a Jim Thompson book, the juxtaposition of the protagonist’s two worlds provides a continuous subtext of tension. However, for Highsmith, it is the loss of control at the most inopportune times that reveals so much.
After taking care of everything and everyone on his list before boarding the ship, Tom takes a little victory lap. The night before, you can hear the success in the silences and inner celebration following her praise by Cleo. He even gets so cozy and slightly drunk that he almost sleeps in it. However, after persevering and gathering the socks and a bathrobe he has been asked to deliver to Dickie, he is confronted on the ship with his cabin filled with his rogue friends (Tom calls them “crumbs”) from convenience. It’s their sudden inclusion and childish behavior that makes Tom stand out. Although he holds it because they have to jump ship, the bitter metallic taste is not one he wishes to savor after so much hard work.
Alone, on the waves, Ripley begins to gather. A man who knowingly sends fraudulent letters to get tax money as a ‘prank’ knows not to just steal Henry James’ book from the ship’s library, even if he can’t. to verify. With no one to prove himself to, he has no choice but to look in that mirror.
These books are not nice. In fact, they remain very down to earth, a protagonist whose moral compass has slipped a few degrees among the idle rich. Who are you even supposed to love? Ripley is out of protection. Yet with so much we learn about him, even we as readers remain unsure of what exactly he is protecting. Over five books, it’s even possible to feel like you know Highsmith as a person and a writer. However, the mystery of its characters protecting their egos, and furthermore only being real criminals when they absolutely have to, might say more about those around us than those we read about. Maybe Highsmith learned more about everyone to prevent anyone from finding out more about her.
Mik Davis is the Record Store Manager at T-Bones Records & Cafe in Hattiesburg.
New this week
JOHN MELLENCAMP- Strictly a one-eyed Jack[LP/CD] (Republic)
Johnny Cougar. Jean Cougar. John Cougar Mellencamp. John Mellencamp. The name changes like the volumes of a biography. An activist. A painter. An actor. A writer. Same director. Still a singer/songwriter. As a boxer, Mellencamp was counted out too many times but never backed down. He translated pop success into his own brand of “Heartland Rock”. Then he turned his back on that and gave us the Americana plan. After that, he then found a way to incorporate modern R&B beats and electronics into his sound. On his 23rd studio album, 70-year-old Mellencamp uses his lyrics to punch. Across the album’s three collaborations with lifelong friend Bruce Springsteen, it’s easy to hear how much they know when they’ve found that winning Woody Guthrie-esque progression and how they complement each other – even if their vocals can be a little less soaring than it was. the first time they sang together was in 1986. “Chasing Rainbows” is a folk song that lifts your spirits. Most of “One-Eyed Jack” seems to fit well into another “Good Samaritan” style tour like he did in 2000. “One-Eyed Jack” is another chapter in his Lonesome Jubilee.
BORIS- O[LP/CD/CS] (Sacred Bones/Secretly/AMPED)
Japanese band Noise/Doom Boris create some of their most touching music from the release of guitar distortion and through waves of effects enveloping the abstract yet metallic sound they release. For nearly 30 years, they have defied expectations. Early albums like “Flood” were spontaneous 70-minute creations that have become staples. 2003’s “Akuma No Uta” brought together heavy sludge (still spectral around the edges) and meditative drones with vocals. “W” is the sequel to 2020’s “NO” flurry. While they hadn’t sounded that Punk-meets-Sabbath in years, under feedback and noise, Boris again let their sound metastasize to across the body of the group. “W” is the return of uncomfortable silence and saving loud parts. The trio use their 27th album to manipulate darkness and light. The vocals here are haunting incantations to cast a spell (“Drowning by Numbers”) while the guitars are wielded like a machete slicing through the thicket to reveal the healing glow of pure white light reflections.
THE VOLTA OF MARS – Married in the Comatorium/Frances
The Mute/Amputechture/The Bedlam in Gotham[Limited LP pressing] (cloud hill)
All hail rule breakers. All hail bands that ease their so-called “boredom” by creating music that climaxes them in the hope that others will follow. El Pasko’s At The Drive-In was about to break through with their meeting of hardcore and post rock. Several memorable television performances (still on YouTube) have made them the band of the moment. Pressure, a van accident and general discontent deflated ATDI too quickly. However, the group’s core duo of Omar Rodriguez-Lopez and Cedric Bixler-Zavala had something else in mind. A completely new sound. Impetuous and Progressive. The latter could draw comparisons to 70s bands like Yes and ELP taking things so over the top that they could be perceived as complacent. Over those four albums, The Mars Volta made music that was, at least, more sacrificial. As monstrous as their riffs were and as loud as they could howl and shred over them, there was a different kind of release for those who listened. Their lyrics still read with utter abstraction, but Cédric Bixler-Zavala delivered them with the strength and passion of a singer who made you believe. “De-Loused” was frenetic and enigmatic mixing the slam of punk with labyrinthine Latin rhythms. He wasn’t afraid to rock or just backfire like a King Crimson album would. “Frances The Mute” remains their masterpiece. Written as a tribute to a deceased member, it is both breathtaking and poignant. As an alternative/punk/modern metal version of Yes’ “Close to the Edge”, it adds so much to their multi-layered sound (notably Dub and Ambient). However, it never rings together. Side One (“Cygnus…Vismund Cygnus” and “L’Via L’Viaquez”) plays on their superhuman tendencies but still sounds human. “Amputechture” even pushes Jazz Fusion into the mix, while “The Bedlam in Goliath” incorporates more Funk. Their sound on these four albums remains as dense as Metal but really allows you to hear all the music that the band puts together. In the end, the legacy of The Mars Volta is contained here. Four albums that still have no comparison and still reveal musical mysteries and lyrical marvels to be unraveled.