European critics consider Patricia Highsmith's twenty-two novels and eight story collections literary descendants of Dostoevsky and Kafka, but American readers know her work mainly as fodder for films: Strangers on a Train, The Talented Mr. Ripley, and Ripley's Game. She was most at home in the darker corners of her characters' twisted psyches and as often as not her protagonists expressed themselves through murder. Even in her first full-time job she excelled at creating dual lives, scripting comic book heroes Captain Midnight, Spy Smasher, and the Golden Arrow. Her childhood was divided between Fort Worth and New York and her emotions were split between similar extremes: loving and loathing her stepfather and her mother who claimed to have tried to abort her by drinking turpentine. Highsmith said her unhappiest year was when her parents abandoned her with her grandmother at 12, yet throughout her life she seemed to seek the intensity of crisis and discord, pushing her friends to fight and her lovers to leave. One former girlfriend, the portraitist Allela Cornell, killed herself by swallowing nitric acid. Another girlfriend was Marijane Meaker, whose work you may know under her pen names Vin Packer, Ann Aldrich, or M. E. Kerr. A woman who didn't become a girlfriend was the frosty, smoldering blond young married mother in Bloomingdales who sent Highsmith into a fever of longing and productivity, resulting in her second novel, The Price of Salt [Kindle]. If you still think queer visibility began with Stonewall, this lesbian book sold nearly a million copies in 1952. And unlike Gore Vidal's 1948 gay novel The City and the Pillar, hers has a happy ending. (Though, unlike Gore, she used a pseudonym, Claire Morgan.) Sarah Waters thinks so highly of The Price of Salt she said it alone warranted Highsmith's inclusion in the National Gallery show Gay Icons. Alcoholic, anti-American, anti-Semitic, stingy, and racist, Highsmith lived in Switzerland for more than thirty years and died, intentionally alone, at 74. She left her estate of several million dollars to Yaddo, where she had rewritten her first novel, Strangers on a Train, at Truman Capote's urging.
Joan Schenkar's illuminating and entertaining biography, The Talented Miss Highsmith: The Secret Life and Serious Art of Patricia Highsmith [Kindle] again proves difficult characters often make the most riveting reading. Schenkar also edited Patricia Highsmith: Selected Novels and Short Stories. Reader Lori Hahn recommends M.E. Kerr/Marijane Meaker's Highsmith: A Romance of the 1950's [Kindle].
The first book editor for Seattle's The Stranger, the first literary editor for nest, Matthew Stadler wrote four gay novels in the 90s. After Landscape: Memory (a high school student's jottings from WWI era San Francisco), The Dissolution of Nicholas Dee (an art historian's surreal jaunt through the Netherlands, with dwarfs and orphans), and The Sex Offender (the Orwellian, unsuccessful "rehabilitation of a male teacher who had an affair with a 12 year-old boy), his fiction culminated with Allan Stein, a funny, beautiful, and disturbing novel again mixing art criticism, historical settings, foreign travel, and sex with students in this tale about a tutor hired to teach Gertrude Stein's 15 year-old nephew in Paris in the early 1900s. Despite his transgressive preoccupations, Stadler's work was embraced by the mainstream enough to win him a Guggenheim, a Merrill, and a Whiting, but no sales, and at 40 in 1999 he turned away from fiction to focus on urban planning, the positive aspects of sprawl, and publishing. He's edited four anthologies including the urban theory reader Where We Live Now and has a forthcoming book next month about two projects in the Dutch city Deventer. He founded Clear Cut Press in Portland in 2001, and in 2009 he cofounded Publication Studio, a successful print on demand model for books that has spread to seven other cities and earlier this week brought out Stephen Boyer's novel Parasite. Even his ardent fans may be unaware that after a dozen-year break, Stadler self-published his fifth novel in 2011. He compares Chloe Jarren’s La Cucaracha set in Guanajuato, Mexico to an international mystery a la John Le Carré that explores "the mongrel dynamism, the deluded optimism of 21st century neo-liberal politics."