Reading Journal: The Talented Mr. Ripley

Much of my reading is done as a result of a course I’m teaching or a talk I’m giving—but the good news: This means I’m often reading some terrific novels, stories, essays, and more.

I jumped on such an opportunity when a librarian at the Chevy Chase Neighborhood Library asked me to be the guest speaker for a discussion on Patricia Highsmith’s The Talented Mr. Ripley, part of the library’s series My Brilliant Friend: Friendship, Loyalty and Betrayal in Fiction. Highsmith has been a huge influence on my own work, both in terms of her fiction and maybe even more so through her own craft book, Plotting and Writing Suspense Fiction, particularly the section on laying/layering “lines of action” in fiction.

While I’ve often thought about teaching The Talented Mr. Ripley in one of my classes at Mason, I haven’t yet, though I’ve frequently assigned the first chapter of the book as part of my “Writing Suspense” course, as a way of exploring that idea of “lines of action,” how a skillful author introduces them, how they might then get twisted and tightened over the course of a full story or entire novel.

With the library chat, I was able to explore this idea more fully and to follow a couple of those lines over the course of the whole book. And the attendees were sharp readers, generous with their perspectives and questions—a real joy start to finish.

And what a joy to simply to reread this book! I’d read all five of Highsmith’s Ripley novels back in 2015 as part of New Year’s resolution, but learned something new again this time revisiting. And a bonus: After chatting with a friend down in Atlanta while I was rereading the book this time, he decided to suggest it as the next selection for his own book club—and I’m hoping to zoom in for that talk too!

In other news, other reading: I read Daphne du Maurier’s “The Birds” aloud with my wife Tara—a Halloween treat (she found it depressing, which… coulda told her that)—and I’ve also been rereading some domestic suspense stories and Sue Grafton’s A Is For Alibi for my “Women of Mystery” course.

Great reading in all directions.

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