The Price of Salt, Patricia Highsmith, WW Norton (revised edition), 1984, originally published by The Niad Press, 1952, under pen name Claire Morgan, 262 pp
Summary from Goodreads: Arguably Patricia Highsmith's finest, The Price of Salt is story of Therese Belivet, a stage designer trapped in a department-store day job, whose salvation arrives one day in the form of Carol Aird, an alluring suburban housewife in the throes of a divorce. They fall in love and set out across the United States, pursued by a private investigator who eventually blackmails Carol into a choice between her daughter and her lover. With this reissue, The Price of Salt may finally be recognized as a major twentieth-century American novel.
When I learned that the movie, Carol, was an adaptation of this early novel by Patricia Highsmith, I decided to read the book first. I am glad I did.
Because it was 1952 and she was worried about backlash in those morally straight-laced times, Highsmith published with a small press under a pseudonym. This publishing history only underscores the main point of the plot: that a woman with a young child going through a divorce risked losing that child to the father on a morals charge.
Said husband is portrayed as a vicious homophobe who would sacrifice his daughter's happiness to punish his wife. The story begins slowly and at first lacks the creepy tension I have found in other Highsmith novels. The young woman, Therese, who is jockeying her attempts to start a career as a set designer for theater, an insistent boyfriend whom she does not love or feel passion for, and the personal mystery of her sexual life, is one of Highsmith's most appealing characters.
But once the slow build of their relationship turns into a Thelma and Louise type of road trip, many issues reach climax and the creep factor enters in. It becomes apparent that Carol is taking advantage of Therese's innocence but I liked that the young woman was not a victim but went on to pursue her life.
The movie, though beautifully shot and masterfully acted by Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara, leaves out much of the nuance in the book and changes the ending. I hate when they change the ending! I felt the movie took much of the Highsmith out of the story.
Both did however show the destructive power of men in a society which views homosexuality as immoral and gives men the final word on what women may do with their own bodies. I don't know of other novels in the early 1950s that portray this so well, if at all.
(The Price of Salt is available in paperback by order from Once Upon A Time Bookstore.)