‘The Terrapin’ by Patricia Highsmith

NPG x195063; Patricia Highsmith by Francis Goodman

The Terrapin by Patricia Highsmith, 1962

The magic trick:

Demonstrating a boy’s full range of emotions and contrasting extremes of actions

This is not the first story we’ve looked at for the SSMT site that deals in contrasts. But this might be the most extreme case of contrasts. In “The Terrapin,” we see young Victor act on polar ends of the tenderness scale. What is most remarkable is that the story, in very few words, makes each contrasting act wholly realistic. And that’s quite a trick on Highsmith’s part.

The selection:

His mother’s black eyebrows frowned. “Take the terrapene downstairs? Certainly not. Don’t be absurd, my baby! The terrapene is not a toy!”

Victor tried to think of some other lever of persuasion. He had not removed his coat. “You wanted me to get acquainted with Frank – .”

“Yes. What has that got to do with a terrapin?”

The water on the back burner began to boil.

“You see, I’d promised him I’d – ” Victor watched his mother lift the terrapin from the box, and as she dropped it into the boiling water, his mouth fell open. “Mama!

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