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Book Review: The Talented Mr. Ripley (Spoiler Alert)

Yeah, yeah, this novel is old. Real old. Like Mickey Mouse and Chet Baker old-timey old. So what. It’s good. It’s cutting-edge. The characters are raw and bolder than most of the books coming out today from the major houses. Thomas Ripley is one of a kind. A man with a talent for impersonation, forgery, and murder. He lives by his own rules, whatever those are. He sidles up to the rich and before they know it, in his bumbling, shy way, he has them.

Highsmith masterfully weaves language, character and plot, especially character, to create a vast world of people who do the unthinkable, yet are like the people you see every day. Ripley is such a real person, except you get to see him when he’s not behaving in a socially acceptable manner. That’s the joy of fiction. Seeing and knowing what we can never see or know in the real world. Highsmith makes me hold my breath. She makes me tap my temple. Her writing is like the stem holding the flower, sneaking up on you with its importance, but unnoticed, like Thomas Ripley.

When things get out of hand, Ripley resorts to the only way left to keep his secrets. He kills. The murders are interesting and unplanned, but somehow (I just saw Patricia Highsmith say this in an interview)–he’ll always, always get away with it. Always.

And that is the sense you get from the book. He’ll stumble over a root as the cops chase him, he’ll almost lose his footing completely, but in the end, his ankles will hold, his pinwheeling arms will steady, and he’ll keep the circus act going. That’s the thrill. The juice. It’s not for the money or the things, it’s for the juice. He needs this life like my cat needs to kill lizards when he’s in the yard.

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