CORRECTION: This review of Joan Schenkar's book "The Talented Miss Highsmith: The Secret Life and Serious Art of Patricia Highsmith" incorrectly said that Schenkar knew Highsmith in the latter part of Highsmith's life, and the review was based on that mistaken assumption, including the reviewer's wish that Schenkar had written a personal recollection instead of a biography. Schenkar never met Highsmith, nor does the book suggest any acquaintance.
THE TALENTED MISS HIGHSMITH
The Secret Life and Serious Art of Patricia Highsmith
By Joan Schenkar
St. Martin's. 684 pp. $40
Here she stands, like one of her own self-incriminating suspects: Patricia Highsmith, beneficiary of one of the great revival campaigns in recent literary history (to rival those of Paula Fox, Dawn Powell, Philip K. Dick), yet still mistaken in plain sight. You hate to quibble with a revival, but what's with all the short-story collections? And why can't we look past the Ripley sequence? Highsmith's greatest work is in the non-Ripley novels, and she's a great novelist, unqualified by any label or apology. The stories are fascinating, once you've come to care for her, and there may even be a cache of gems lurking in all that mass, but she's too little interested in language to thrive in that compressed form, while her foremost capacity -- the one that distinguishes her as a master -- is for putting a set of characters through a deepening series of nightmares. Her tales are not so much credible as they are undeniable in their grim, winding, reader-implicating destructiveness -- like the catastrophes of human life, her plots leave us incredulous. To reduce her to stories is like wishing Hitchcock had made shorts. To ignore the non-Ripley novels is like wishing Dostoevski had opted for "The Further Adventures of Raskolnikov."