Jon Ureña's Reviews > Beautiful Shadow: A Life of Patricia Highsmith

Beautiful Shadow by Andrew    Wilson
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it was amazing
bookshelves: asperger-s, autism, mental-illness, biographies, writing, non-fiction

A few years ago I found a quote (I love quotes), by a certain Amy Hempel, that intrigued me:

"I read about a famous mystery writer who worked for one week in a department store. One day she saw a woman come in and buy a doll. The mystery writer found out the woman’s name, and took a bus to New Jersey to see where the woman lived. That was all. Years later, she referred to this woman as the love of her life. It is possible to imagine a person so entirely that the image resists attempts to dislodge it."

I wondered who that mystery writer could have been, and I also identified with a mind that would daydream an entire life out of a moment and follow that obsession. That "mystery writer" was Patricia Highsmith.

While I was reading her "This Sweet Sickness", about a loner unable to connect with people who obsesses over a woman he loves, to the point of building a complete second identity he would like to live, I identified with it, and how it was told, in a way that suggested that the writer was the kind of peculiar I was; hardly anyone knows about the depths of social blindness, isolation, anxiety and obsession (and attached malaises like obsessive-compulsive disorder and chronic depression) like autistic people.

Patricia Highsmith was a retiring, silent person with a tremendously dark interior world, who could not properly connect with anyone, who loved certain people when they were away but needed space when they were close. She considered herself to have a man's brain, but didn't want a man's body, and was attracted to women, but didn't particularly like them. She was a masochist who consistently "chose" to love women who bossed her around and hurt her. She smoked and drank so heavily that it destroyed her body, although, curiously enough, didn't seem to had affected her mind. Her instincts didn't align with the human world around her. She was hypersensitive to noises and being touched. She was clumsy and awkward. She was at her best when daydreaming or writing, which are forms of the same thing, but fell into horrible depressions the moment she came back to herself. She was never at ease with the world.

Almost everything about her screamed Asperger's to me, but I can't be objective about it. It was weird that nobody else caught it, until one of her friends did:

"In hindsight, I think Pat could have had a form of high-functioning Asperger's Syndrome. She had a lot of typical traits. She had a terrible sense of direction, she would always get lost and whenever she went to the hairdresser's she would have trouble parking even though she had been with me lots of times. She was hypersensitive to sound and had these communications difficulties. Most of us screen certain things, but she would spit out everything she thought. She was not aware of the nuances of conversation and she didn't realise when she had hurt other people. That was probably why her love affairs never lasted very long, because she couldn't overcome the difficulties in communicating. Although she didn't really understand other people - she had such a strange interior world - she was a fantastic observer. She would see things that an average person would never experience."

She wasn't a recluse, however, like some journalists called her. She kept plenty of friends, travelled and invited people over, people who tolerated how weird she was. She never made it as big as she deserved mostly because she didn't care to belong to a "writer's community", didn't like exposing herself to the public, and her stories didn't offer hope nor platitudes. On a personal note, as an aspiring author, I hate the "community building" and ego-boosting that getting together with other writers involves, and curiously enough almost never involves discussing how to write a good story with excellent prose.

Patricia was also a misanthrope who disliked and hated way more than she liked. She got in trouble for her opinions regarding black people, religion and Israel. Having been born clearly different, she was a hardcore individualist that intended people to take responsibility for themselves. During the last half of her life, and having been on the brink of bankcruptcy, never knowing if the next book was going to sell, she was very stingy with money, but in her will she left her millions to a writer's retreat she spent a few weeks in while writing her first novel.

Despite all her bad and unsolvable things, reading about her has made me aware of a hole in the world, the kind that opens when a real human being goes away. I look forward to learning more about her, and about myself, while reading her stories.
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Reading Progress

August 26, 2016 – Shelved
August 26, 2016 – Shelved as: to-read
August 31, 2016 – Started Reading
August 31, 2016 –
16.0% "Crushing on the young version of a probably sociopathic, autistic, lesbian and dead writer seems like a good way to waste a few weeks."
September 12, 2016 – Shelved as: asperger-s
September 12, 2016 – Shelved as: autism
September 12, 2016 – Shelved as: mental-illness
September 12, 2016 – Shelved as: biographies
September 12, 2016 – Shelved as: writing
September 12, 2016 – Shelved as: non-fiction
September 12, 2016 – Finished Reading

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