Tuesday, April 20, 2021

the last book I ever read (My Autobiography of Carson McCullers: A Memoir by Jenn Shapland, excerpt nine)

from My Autobiography of Carson McCullers: A Memoir by Jenn Shapland:

Patricia Highsmith, lesbian novelist, called her two months at Yaddo her “summer of peace.” She was only in residence once, in 1948, and no written record of her stay remains in the Yaddo archives. Nowhere in Elizabeth’s notes does she appear. At Yaddo, she wrote the bulk of Strangers on a Train and spent plenty of time drinking in Saratoga Springs after working hours. She found a queer community of her own while in residency, befriending the gay novelist Marc Brandel and talking to him at length about sexuality as they walked the grounds. (He soon proposed, four different times, hoping to establish a marriage of convenience.) When Highsmith died, unbeknownst to anyone at Yaddo, it was revealed that she had named the sole beneficiary of her estate: $3 million at the time, plus any future royalties, including proceeds from films made from her books, like The Talented Mr. Ripley and Strangers on a Train and, recently, Carol. Nestled in my brand-new cabin, I liked to imagine that the heated floors and walls of windows were derived directly from Carol’s box office success. Chelsea and I listened to the audiobooks of Strangers on a Train and The Price of Salt on road trips when we were first in New Mexico, enthralled by Highsmith’s ability in both books to render creepy queer romance as transcontinental crime drama. She published The Price of Salt, on which Carol is based, in 1952 under the pseudonym Claire Morgan, concerned, she wrote in 1990, that she might be labeled a “lesbian book writer” if she used her real name. She was also trying to protect the people on whom she based her characters. It’s her only novel that charts a lesbian romance, and it’s still credited as one of the first lesbian novels of the era to end happily—rather than with the typical death or straight marriage. I wonder if Carson read it.

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