Friday, July 18, 2008

Small g: A Summer Idyll by Patricia Highsmith

(hb; 1995)

From the inside flap:

"...The story opens. . . with the brutal murder of Petey Ritter. The story picks up six months later at Jakob's, a louche Zurich bar designated in guide books as a 'small g' for its mixture of gay, straight, and bisexual clientele. The bar is home to a small circle of friends; chief among them is Rickie Markwalder, Petey's former lover, who was initially suspected of the murder. Rickie and his dancing dog, Lulu, hold court at Jakob's with the club-footed Renate Hagnauer, a possessive seamstress who finds herself attracted to the very gay men she loathes, and her beautiful apprentice Luisa Zimmerman. The tenuous balance of this incongruous group is broken on the day that the impressionable and handsome Teddie Stevenson arrives. Luisa and Rickie both fall in love with him -- but Renate and her henchman, Willi Biber, conspire to break Teddie's spell by force. Renate in turn becomes the subject of a counter-conspiracy hatched by Rickie and Luisa involving a woman to whom Luisa finds herself strongly attracted, Dorrie Wyss, with unexpected results."


Fans of Highsmith's word-economical, chilly tone of Ripley novels may be put off this odd sidestep of a final novel (Highsmith died in 1995, a few months after she finished writing it). Small g is perfectly titled, and reads like a chatty evening -- or a series of them -- out with drunk, usually happy friends. It's also somewhat unpredictable and quirkily crazy. The ending is at once sublime, emotionally satisfying and logical.

Small g  is worth checking out, if you're not turned off by Highsmith's last experimental turn and enjoy summer-set books.

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