Following on the heels of The Collected Stories of Patricia Highsmith (2001), this gathering will be a revelation to readers who’ve bracketed Highsmith (1921–95) purely as a psychological suspense novelist, or indeed as a novelist. Though she did not publish her first volume of stories until 20 years after her groundbreaking first novel, Strangers on a Train (1950), Highsmith considered the short story, like poetry, a necessary discipline for her writing and returned to the form constantly. Another revelation is provided by the division of these 28 tales—about half the author’s previously uncollected short fiction—into early and late (basically, pre- and post-Strangers). Early stories like “The Still Point of the Turning World” and “Doorbell for Louisa,” often focusing, as Paul Irgendaay’s afterword points out, on faded females, are more interested in focusing a mood or zone of consciousness than unfolding a narrative. The later stories feature more familiar Highsmith types—men like the petty thief in “A Dangerous Hobby” and the haunted divorcé in “The Second Cigarette” whose hollow lives are exposed by insolent chance. What remains constant throughout is life’s shocking arbitrariness, which renders even the rare happy endings of stories like “A Bird in Hand” (whose hero passes off store-bought birds as duplicates of families’ beloved pets) and “Born Failure” (whose sad-sack hero discovers his happiness by messing up his one piece of good fortune) as depressing in their own way as the suicides that more frequently provide her endings. One final revelation is how keen a judge Highsmith was of her work. With a few exceptions like “The Trouble with Mrs. Blynn, the Trouble with the World” and “A Girl Like Phyl,” which cram a life’s worth of devastation into a few pages, these stories are a cut below the seven volumes she collected herself.
Valuable for the light it sheds on its creator, then, but not a collection that will enlarge Highsmith’s formidable reputation.