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Posts for June, 2008

This Month In History: A Book Review

Jim Burroway

June 20th, 2008

As I was doing some leisurely digging in the university library a few weeks ago, I came across this familiar book review. It appeared fifty years ago this month, in the June 1958 issue of The Mattachine Review. Enjoy!

The Talented Mr. RipleyDIRT TAKES A SWEEP THROUGH ITALY
THE TALENTED MR. RIPLEY, by Patricia Highsmith. New York: Coward-McCann, 1955. Reviewed by H. E. P.

How he started on his career is not made at all clear, but when we first meet Tom Ripley he is already a successful extortionist, and before long we see the list of his accomplishments grow and expand to include a remarkably long string of murders. Although at the very beginning the hero (?) himself vehemently denies that he is a homosexual, subsequent events more than suggest that he is not being entirely candid and honest with us, and presently we find him in a typical New York East Side gay bar. Here he meets the father on one of his erstwhile acquaintances and is sent by him to Europe with the ostensible object of bringing the son back to the United States. It is in the course of a leisurely Italian tour — Sorrento, San Remo, Naples, Rome, and places too numerous to mention — that Tom’s character unfolds slowly — perhaps too slowly for some readers. While it soon becomes apparent that Tom is one of the most despicable heels in contemporary literature, the author does manage to elicit from the reader a measure of sympathy for her “hero” — not an easy task by any manner of means. In the process of following Tom’s adventures we meet a series of straightforward and susceptible homosexuals who invariably fall into his wiles, with the possible exception of Dickie Greenleaf, a homosexual with a girl friend — and here some readers will probably feel that the girl friend incident would be more believable were the sex changed. At any rate, the plot thickens, murder mounts upon murder, a case of assumed identity, and the novel comes to a swift end. It would not be fair to reveal the ending, but let us just say that it is not a conventional one at all, though possibly true to life, and that the reader is sure to react strongly to it, either in delight or revulsion.

“The Talented Mr. Ripley” may not be as well written nor as full of suspense as the author’s other novel on the subject of the homosexual and his troubles, “Strangers on a Train,” but this reviewer was unable to lay it down until the last word had been read, and was left wishing for an Alfred Hitchcock to turn his talents to a dramatization of what is a most unusual suspense novel.

The Talented Mr. RipleyAlfred Hitchcock never made the movie, but Anthony Minghella did in 1999. Starring Matt Damon as Tom Ripley, Jude Law as Dickie Greenleaf, and Gwyneth Paltrow as “girlfriend” (Marge Sherwood), it was nominated for five Academy Awards. They made a few changes for the movie — Ripley meets Greanleaf’s father at a party instead of a gay bar — but the story is essentially the same, leaving viewers in a state of delight or revulsion, depending.