Deep Water, Patricia Highsmith, WW Norton & Company Inc, 1957, 271 pp
Highsmith does it again in this disturbing story of a suburban marriage gone awry. The setting and circumstances are so in tune with the late 50s but she adds a chill all her own.
Little Wesley is a small town north of New York City. Vic Van Allen lives off a trust fund left by his father and publishes small runs of exclusive books. He has his own press and practically handcrafts the books. In fact, he is an extremely ordered and industrious individual with several odd hobbies, such as raising snails. He reminded me a bit of Dr Hata in Chang-rae Lee's A Gesture Life.
But Vic has a large problem. His wife Melinda, after the birth of their daughter, turned against him, would no longer have sex and began having affairs. Vic put up with this behavior because he still loved Melinda and wanted to keep the marriage together. He is a good father and well respected in his small community. He also has his own room out over their garage where he can get away from the troubling scene in his home.
With painstaking pacing the plot shows the gradual breakdown of Vic's tolerance for Melinda's behavior. She comes across as deeply psychopathic but Vic is increasingly troubled by jealousy and his friends' reactions to Melinda.
By the end, Vic has a complete personality meltdown; not unexpected but his descent into madness just gave me the creeps. I was in a state of high anxiety on every page. I don't think there is anything uplifting about a Patricia Highsmith novel but she induces in me a grim fascination and I can't stop reading.
(Deep Water is available in paperback by order from Once Upon A Time Bookstore.)