‘The Hand’ by Patricia Highsmith

The Hand by Patricia Highsmith, 1975

The magic trick:

Launching a broad satire with what amounts to a bad pun

Welcome to a very strange week on the SSMT site. Seven days of stories from Patricia Highsmith, most famous for her thrillers. We’re talking big-time Hollywood fare here, The Talented Mr. Ripley, Strangers On The Train. But that’s not what we’re interested in this week. This week, we’re looking at her extraordinarily peculiar short story collection from 1975 called Little Tales Of Misogyny. These stories are unlike anything I have ever read. They’re simple and smart and absolutely vile. These are the products of an angry mind. Angry isn’t strong enough. This is downright misanthropic. And misogynist? Oh yeah. Big time. As promised. Highsmith eviscerates any and all types of women here. And because the tone feels simple and detached, the cuts are all the deeper. Brace yourself.

We start with the silliest of the bunch – “The Hand.” I don’t want to ruin your reading experience, but this spoiler turns up in the very first sentence, so it’s not much of a cheat. A man asks the father of his would-be bride for her hand in marriage. The father sends him a box with her hand in it.

Yep.

That’s what we’re dealing with here. Is it a commentary on the absurdity surrounding marriage as property? Mayyyyyyybe. More likely it’s a nihilist deadset on burning down the whole world over the course of the next 200 pages.

And that’s quite a trick on Highsmith’s part.

The selection:

Father: ‘Whatever do you thing I mean? You cannot deny that I am more honourable than you, because you took something from my family without asking, whereas when you asked for my daughter’s hand, I gave it.’

Actually, the young man had not done anything dishonourable. The father was merely suspicious and had dirty mind. The father could legally make the young man responsible for his daughter’s upkeep and soak him financially. The young man could not deny that he had the daughter’s hand  —  even though in desperation he had now buried it, after kissing it. But it was becoming two weeks old.

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