SMALL G: A Summer Idyll

Patricia Highsmith, Author . Norton $24.95 (310p) ISBN 978-0-393-05923-6

The last novel by this still underappreciated author, published here nine years after Highsmith's death, is a sour, mostly inert comedy of manners. In Zurich, Rickie Markwalder mourns his younger lover, Peter Ritter, stabbed to death late one night six months earlier. Accompanied by his small dog, Lulu, Rickie haunts a local bar called Jakob's, identified in guidebooks with a "small g" (for gay), hanging out with acquaintances. The bar draws a mixed crowd, most of whom are in love with people they shouldn't be (a familiar Highsmith theme). Renate, a club-footed, middle-aged atelier owner and her young employee Luisa are other regulars. Homophobic to the point of caricature, Renate despised Peter (upon whom Luisa had a crush) and despises Rickie. When a handsome young man, Teddie, comes to the bar, she and an associate set out to wreck any relationship he might develop with either Rickie or Luisa, both of whom are attracted to him. When Rickie and Luisa realize what Renate is trying to do, they make their own plans to punish her in return. While the narrative never flags, at no point does it take off. There are flashes of the author's wit, but much of the writing captures surfaces and nothing more, and Highsmith's remarkable observational powers are muffled. Although most of the characters are well drawn, Renate is simply too much of an ogre to serve as either a realistic threat or a foil, and the story suffers accordingly. Overall, this is a disappointing final note by one of our more interesting writers. Agent, Diogenes Verlag . (June)

Forecast: After a flurry of reissues in the last few years, Highsmith fatigue may be setting in. This novel isn't likely to reverse the trend, though as a new release it's something of a novelty.

Reviewed on: 04/26/2004
Release date: 06/01/2004
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