The Female Novelist by Patricia Highsmith, 1975
The magic trick:
Taking aim at a very specific target and letting rip
So, yesterday, we looked at “The Coquette,” an entry in Highsmith’s Little Tales Of Misogyny that I’d deem feminist. I will not make such claims about today’s feature, “The Female Novelist.”
It is positively vitriolic. There are no shades of gray here. Only shade.
This is a story where it doesn’t feel like Highsmith is writing about a type or an amalgamation of people. This feels like one very specific, very real person that the author knows and loathes. And over the course of two pages, she squares up her target, takes aim, and lets loose with like 10 straight hits. It’s brutal. It’s also pretty funny – if you enjoy that kind of mean-spirited, judgmental humor. And that’s quite a trick on Highsmith’s part.
After three woman friends have seen and praised the manuscript, saying it is ‘just like life,’ and the male and female characters names have been changed four times, much to the detriment of the manuscript’s appearance, and after one man friend (a prospective lover) has read the first page and returned the manuscript saying he has read it all and adores it – the manuscript goes off to a publisher. There is a quick, courteous rejection.
She begins to be more cautious, secures entrées via writer acquaintances, vague, hedged-about recommendations obtained at the expense of winy lunches and dinners.
Rejection after rejection, none the less.
‘I know my story is important!’ she says to her husband.
‘So is the life of the mouse here, to him – or maybe her,’ he replies. He is a patient man, but nearly at the end of his nerves with all this.
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