The Price of Salt by Patricia Highsmith (novel)

edition: Vintage reprint

The story of a young woman who becomes attracted to another woman, somewhat older, and their developing romance.


It sucks when all signs point to GREAT read and you end up bored stiff. First sign leading me to this book was that it is by Patricia Highsmith. Since I loved Talented Mr. Ripley and Strangers on a Train, I thought hey, I must love Highsmith. I loved the pacing of her other suspense novels. So I took a stroll through amazon.com and was intrigued by the title (sign two…I’ve made this mistake many times…I’ll have to do a blog on all the titles that suckered me in through the years).

The price of salt, to me anyways, sounded very intriguing. The blurb said that the road trip in Price of Salt inspired Nabokov’s Lolita (which was one of my favorite all time reads)!! Yet a reviewer on the back of the book says that he/she”likes to believe” that the road trip inspired Lolita. I was a bit confused but still interested. Any comparison to Nabokov must mean it’s great, right? Then came the third little interesting snare, the synopsis. It’s the story of a young woman falling in love with an older woman and they go on this trip together. Well…I’m not one to rush out read lesbian/gay literature seeing as how I’m heterosexual, but hey, I was curious. How does a lesbian relationship get started anyway (other than my brief experience of being stalked by a lesbian who was off her meds and my running in the opposite direction as fast as possible)? And ASSUMING (I know..ASS/YOU and ME) that Highsmith writes suspense tales usually involving murder, I figured some sort of crime had to take place. Would it be one of the women? A love triangle? A robbery? I was seemingly guaranteed a great read by the title, the author, the literary comparison, and the synopsis.

In the end my assumptions were wrong. No murder. No robbery. No real crime except what the 1950s (and even society today) placed on same sex relations. The “crime” was that they loved each other and the world couldn’t understand. Not a bad theme. Just not what I was looking for. Or maybe I just didn’t like the way it was told. The writing is of course tight and vivid, but the characters were flat and frankly, boring. The main character, Therese, was difficult for me to really like or understand. At times she seemed too aloof, at other times too self serving. Mostly I just couldn’t feel what she felt at any point (and other novels have managed very well to make me identify with a character very unlike myself, so I don’t blame it on her being “gay”). I stayed confused and unclear about her emotions except for a few poignant moments when there were descriptions of her love and heartbreak. Somehow her love interest, Carol, seemed more dimensional.

The plot drags. I knew from the synopsis that these two would end up on this road trip. The novel is roughly 260 pages long. It wasn’t until around 150 that they go on the trip. 168 before they actually consumate their relationship in the most non explicit description of sex you can imagine. The trip was boring. Things only became a little more exciting around page 200 until the end. I really wouldn’t recommend this book to anyone but lesbians who are probably sick of hetero romance stories and who would appreciate a happy ending for a change.

If I view it as a romance I’d give it a little more credit. I unfortunately went into it thinking I was reading a suspense novel so was constantly waiting for the suspense. I did enjoy the opening chapters describing her seasonal job at a department store since I once worked at a department store. And I enjoyed when she first met Carol, seeing how the relationship gets going. After that it was yawn city for me. In the author’s afterwards (which I didn’t read until afterwards), she discusses how this book is unlike her other books because it is not a suspense novel. Wow. Wish I’d known all that before.

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