Perhaps no one “can document a life in all its richness,” but Wilson has come close, getting at Highsmith from a number of...

BEAUTIFUL SHADOW

A LIFE OF PATRICIA HIGHSMITH

A closely drawn portrait of the writer who “celebrated irrationality, chaos and emotional anarchy, and regarded the criminal as the perfect example of the twentieth-century existentialist hero.”

British journalist Wilson uses Highsmith’s diaries, notebooks, letters, and interviews to catch (in her own words) her “moods, fits, and daily activities.” Perhaps best known for Strangers on a Train and her Ripley novels, Highsmith (1921–95) was never easy on her readers, says Wilson. Her work was often macabre and transgressive, noir and existential, drawing upon evil’s banality and life’s strange forces (“Each person carries around in himself a terrible other world of hell and the unknown,” she wrote in her notebook). Highsmith herself comes across as a distinctive character: she was reserved (“This is the tragedy of the conscience-stricken young homosexual, that he not only conceals his sex objectives, but conceals his humanity and natural warmth of heart as well,” she wrote, though she later became comfortable with her lesbianism); footloose; bereft of moral certainties (“I myself have a criminal bent. . . . I have a lurking liking for those who flout the law which I realise is despicable of me”); maybe even, as a friend noted, possessing “a form of high-functioning Asperger’s Syndrome.” Her relationships were many and urgent, and she had a quirky enough character to provide diverting stories, like the one of smuggling pet snails into France by hiding them under her breasts. But it’s the dark side that most fascinates Wilson, the warped perspectives of Highsmith’s central characters, their attractions and antagonisms, and her desire “to explore the diseases produced by sexual repression . . . like peculiar vermin in a stagnant well.”

Perhaps no one “can document a life in all its richness,” but Wilson has come close, getting at Highsmith from a number of angles and showing the splinters of identity in his subject that she herself found so captivating. (Two 8-page b&w photo inserts, not seen)

Pub Date: July 1, 2003

ISBN: 1-58234-198-2

Page Count: 544

Publisher: Bloomsbury

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2003

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The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the...

NIGHT

Elie Wiesel spent his early years in a small Transylvanian town as one of four children. 

He was the only one of the family to survive what Francois Maurois, in his introduction, calls the "human holocaust" of the persecution of the Jews, which began with the restrictions, the singularization of the yellow star, the enclosure within the ghetto, and went on to the mass deportations to the ovens of Auschwitz and Buchenwald. There are unforgettable and horrifying scenes here in this spare and sombre memoir of this experience of the hanging of a child, of his first farewell with his father who leaves him an inheritance of a knife and a spoon, and of his last goodbye at Buchenwald his father's corpse is already cold let alone the long months of survival under unconscionable conditions. 

The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the sphere of suffering shared, and in this case extended to the death march itself, there is no spiritual or emotional legacy here to offset any reader reluctance.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2006

ISBN: 0374500010

Page Count: 120

Publisher: Hill & Wang

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2006

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A wonderful page-turner written with humility, immediacy, and great style. Nothing came cheap and easy to McCandless, nor...

INTO THE WILD

The excruciating story of a young man on a quest for knowledge and experience, a search that eventually cooked his goose, told with the flair of a seasoned investigative reporter by Outside magazine contributing editor Krakauer (Eiger Dreams, 1990). 

Chris McCandless loved the road, the unadorned life, the Tolstoyan call to asceticism. After graduating college, he took off on another of his long destinationless journeys, this time cutting all contact with his family and changing his name to Alex Supertramp. He was a gent of strong opinions, and he shared them with those he met: "You must lose your inclination for monotonous security and adopt a helter-skelter style of life''; "be nomadic.'' Ultimately, in 1992, his terms got him into mortal trouble when he ran up against something—the Alaskan wild—that didn't give a hoot about Supertramp's worldview; his decomposed corpse was found 16 weeks after he entered the bush. Many people felt McCandless was just a hubris-laden jerk with a death wish (he had discarded his map before going into the wild and brought no food but a bag of rice). Krakauer thought not. Admitting an interest that bordered on obsession, he dug deep into McCandless's life. He found a willful, reckless, moody boyhood; an ugly little secret that sundered the relationship between father and son; a moral absolutism that agitated the young man's soul and drove him to extremes; but he was no more a nutcase than other pilgrims. Writing in supple, electric prose, Krakauer tries to make sense of McCandless (while scrupulously avoiding off-the-rack psychoanalysis): his risky behavior and the rites associated with it, his asceticism, his love of wide open spaces, the flights of his soul.

A wonderful page-turner written with humility, immediacy, and great style. Nothing came cheap and easy to McCandless, nor will it to readers of Krakauer's narrative. (4 maps) (First printing of 35,000; author tour)

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 1996

ISBN: 0-679-42850-X

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Villard

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 1995

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