‘The Dancer’ by Patricia Highsmith

The Dancer by Patricia Highsmith, 1975

The magic trick:

Introducing an element of societal sadomasochism at the core of the story

This is a traditional tale of betrayal, heartbreak, and murder.

Or is it?

We have this nagging detail that the story keeps coming back to. In fact, the entire narrative hinges on this point. The audience loves Claudette and Rodolphe’s dance act, why? Because he pantomimes choking her at the climax of the routine. They can’t get enough of this bizarre combination of fear, disgust, and sex appeal.

So what does this say about society?

I’m not sure, but I know it’s a seriously complicated addition to an otherwise cliched story of broken romance. And that’s quite a trick on Highsmith’s part.

The selection:

The nightclub where they worked was called ‘The Rendez-vous’, and was known amongst a certain jaded, middle-aged male clientele as a sure cure for impotence. Just come and watch Claudette and Rodolphe dance, everyone said. Journalists, trying to spice their columns, described their act as sadomasochistic, because Rodolphe often appezzred to be choking Claudette to death. He would seize her throat and advance, bending her backward, or he would retreat – it didn’t matter – keeping her throat in the grip of his hands, sometimes shaking her neck so that her hair tossed wildly. The audience would gasp, sigh, and watch with fascination. The drumrolls of the three-man band would grow louder and more insistent.

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