Part book review, part impressionistic scribblings on the joys of reading and the struggles of carving out time in which to do it,
#ABookishYear is a weekly dispatch from the front lines of an intellectual journey spanning fifty-two tomes.
Thoughts on An American Psycho
By Roxanne Fequiere
As much as I love to read, I tend to turn to film when I want to feel my emotions externalized: an extended ugly cry courtesy of Won’t You Be My Neighbor? for instance, or the quickened heartbeat that accompanies a movie like A Quiet Place. When tearing through a book, I experience my emotions almost exclusively on a cerebral level. As rapt as I am, it’s unlikely that a passerby would be able to tell whether I’m reading a family saga or a bodice-ripper. The same frown of concentration remains on my face almost invariably, which is why the rare literary experiences that do spur a physical reaction stand out in my memory: the tears I shed while reading the end of To Kill a Mockingbird, the raucous laughter that escaped me while reading Arnold Lobel as a child, and now, the yearning ache of wanderlust inspired by The Talented Mr. Ripley. At a certain point, the sense of longing was so overwhelming that I actually wondered if I’d be able to finish the book.
Perhaps it’s the fact that I haven’t traveled much at all this year and the urge to go away is getting stronger. Maybe it’s because I went to Italy for the first time three years ago, hopping from Milan to Vicenza to Venice to Palermo to Positano to Rome to Florence, and I’ve been wanting to go back ever since I left. It definitely has a lot to do with the spot-on description of the joyous sensory overload of experiencing Italy for the first time—the snippets of comprehension you can gather from gestures and the few Italian words you can glean, the precipitous cliffs and the winding roads carved into them, the chalky homes sandwiched between the brilliant blues of sea and sky—as seen through the eyes of the young American, Tom Ripley.
That Ripley is a con man and psychopath on the verge is of little consequence, which could be attributed to Highsmith’s mastery of character development, though I believe her skill at painting the Italian landscape in all its glory helps, too. It wouldn’t be nearly as easy to excuse Ripley’s murderous tendencies if he carried them out in some dark downtown alley, only to return his dingy New York apartment. What would be the point? At least the murder he commits in Italy serves the divine purpose of extending his European holiday, perhaps indefinitely. It’s despicable, but it’s also enticing.
Having seen both Plein Soleil (1960) and The Talented Mr. Ripley (1999) more than a few times, I wondered just how faithful each film was to the original text. As it turns out, each one veers off in new directions. Plein Soleil’s Ripley is bolder than the text’s, telling Dickie exactly how he plans to profit off his death before plunging the knife, while the second movie, released nearly forty years later, explores Tom’s ambiguous sexuality. Played by Matt Damon, he’s at turns bashful, eyes downcast, and suave, if haltingly so. Lack of fidelity to source material aside, I think I have a slight preference for Plein Soleil, though for more aesthetic reasons than anything else. I mean, have you seen Alain Delon’s face?
Neither film saw fit to stick to the description of Marge’s broad, “rather solid” frame. Both films feature wasp-waisted, lithe actresses as the romantic lead. Though the book’s clothing descriptions are sparse, I took the liberty of filling in the blanks with a flourish, as I’ve long been inspired by Marge’s costuming in both iterations. (Further research revealed that she’s a style inspiration for many; there’s even a clothing brand named after her.)
There are five Ripley novels in total, a collection called the Ripliad by fans of the series. According to online synopses, he remains in Europe, gets married, amasses a fortune, gets older, continues killing, though not for fun. Rather, he only kills when someone threatens to poke holes in the life that he’s built for himself. Living in a house of cards, of course, makes that prospect much more likely, but honestly, the first book was so charming that I find myself wanting to spend more time in Ripley’s company. Better him than, say, a Patrick Bateman sequel.
Books & Films
The Talented Mr. Ripley
by Patricia Highsmith
View & Purchase
Roxanne Fequiere is a New York–based writer and editor who might just make it after all.