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Recalling Patricia Highsmith

March 26, 1995

Michael Tolkin's insightful article on Patricia Highsmith in the Feb. 12 Book Review was right on the button. I met Patricia Highsmith in Munich during the '50s while I served as an information officer with the U.S. Army. And we corresponded often during the ensuing decades. She was one of the most generous writers I've ever known, going out of her way to help other writers. She helped me to get my first novel published and helped many others in the same way.

Like many of her characters, she was often unhappy and sad, as Tolkin says. And yet she had a delightful sense of humor that made her a joy to be with and a delicious sense of irony about the foibles of the American middle-class that rivaled H. L. Mencken's. Her decision to live and work in Europe indeed stemmed from her feeling that European readers and critics appreciated her work more.

What galled her most, she told me once, was that she was paid a pittance for "Strangers on a Train," which turned into one of Alfred Hitchcock's most admired films and that, despite its success, her subsequent books were ignored by Hollywood studios. She was convinced that they were frightened of her unconventional protagonists who, like so many criminals in real life, often escaped punishment for their crimes and therefore did not meet Hollywood's often distorted picture of the real world. I think the success of films such as "The Last Seduction" and "Pulp Fiction" indicate a change of focus that would have delighted her.

JACK MATCHA, NORTH HOLLYWOOD

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