‘The Fully Licensed Whore, Or, The Wife’ by Patricia Highsmith

The Fully Licensed Whore, Or, The Wife by Patricia Highsmith, 1975

The magic trick:

Creating a truly idiotic male character that is both absurd and realistic at the same time

We close a week of Little Tales Of Misogyny with perhaps the most cynical of a most cynical bunch. It recalls several of the previous stories from the collection in its tone and unvarnished anger directed toward all of its characters. The female protagonist is using marriage for what she can take, which also is a common theme in the book. The reader isn’t sure where to direct our frustration. Is this woman behaving awfully? Or is she only reacting to the awful structure our society has constructed for her? It’s both. It’s always both in Highsmith’s world. Which is why these stories are so funny and so thoroughly depressing.

This story’s male character is particularly inept. We’ve seen some real dunces in this collection, but Sylvester, here, really takes the biscuit. He’s helpless and utterly useless. He can’t conceive of a world in which Sarah isn’t happy to fulfill her wifely duties of good housekeeping and loyal sex. The story’s theme depends on his total idiocy, which might seem like poor writing given that it hardly seems realistic. Except that it’s completely realistic. Which is the point. And that’s quite a trick on Highsmith’s part.

The selection:

She began to use richer fats, goose fat, olive oil, and to make macaroni cheese, to butter sandwiches more thickly, to push milk-drinking as a splendid source of calcium for Sylvester’s falling hair. He put on twenty pounds in three months. His tailor had to alter all his suits, then make new suits for him.

“Tennis, darling,” Sarah said with concern. “What you need is a bit of exercise.” She was hoping he’d have a heart attack. He now weighed nearly 225 pounds, and he was not a tall man. He was already breathing hard at the slightest exertion.

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