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a u s t
i n c h r o n
i c
l e
. c om
JULY 25, 2014
T H E A U S T I N C H R O N I C L E
27
‘The Other Side’
MeMoir by Houston writer
Lacy JoHnson recounts
a personaL trauMa witH
Honesty and Haunting
beauty
The Other Side: A Memoir
by Lacy M. Johnson
Tin House Books, 232pp., $15.95 (paper)
In media reports of violence against women,
statistics often replace stories. Houstonian Lacy
M. Johnson disrupts this hushed status quo by
telling her truth – a brutal one, to be sure – in a
manner so poetic, so gripping, that the reparation,
though slow-going
and painful, becomes
the focal point. Both
graceful and con-
templative, her book
defies the all-too-
common dismissive
and reductive labels
(“confessionalist”;
“oversharer”) and
embodies hard-earned
strength … and an
exquisite talent for
storytelling. For those
unaware, and those
too aware, this bru-
tally honest recount-
ing of personal trauma
is a window into a life
forever changed – much like the book’s artistic
design, with frayed edges bound.
After years of abuse, Lacy is kidnapped, chained
as a prisoner in a room specifically designed to
muffle her screams, and raped, all at the
hands of a former lover. She escapes, but
only physically at first. The story is told
in fractured spurts, with memories
revealed as lingering wounds heal,
and every chapter offers a deeper
understanding of Lacy as a per-
son – on both sides of the wall
built by pain and fear. Each char-
acter is anonymous – protected
that way – save for the author
herself. The struggles and triumphs
of her relationships before and after
“what happened” are fascinating. The
intentional fog cast over her attacker’s
story also, perhaps, serves to shift an
ingrained societal obsession with the perpetrator
to the ebb and flow of a victim’s world: disrupted
but bravely continued.
The Other Side
is neither flowery nor stale, never
shy or gratuitous. Instead, its haunting beauty
grips the reader from the opening line. Also of
note, this is not a book whose readership can be
defined by gender or role or experience. A wide
audience will relate to Johnson’s talk of tattoos
and pharmaceuticals, overlooked aspects of moth-
erhood (moms are also humans with backstories),
and creative spirits in a harsh world.
The Other
Side
is unforgettable.
– Jessi Cape
Lacy Johnson will speak about and sign
The Other Side
Tuesday, July 29, 7pm, at BookPeople, 603 N. Lamar. For
more information, visit
www.bookpeople.com
.
Aust in ChroniCle Book CluB: ‘ the long goodBye ’
Closing out July Is Crime Month is the debut of the
Austin Chronicle
Book Club. You read the book, then join us
online at a set time for a Twitter chat about it. The club kicks off with a crime fiction classic:
The Long Goodbye
by
Raymond Chandler – the sixth novel featuring iconic gumshoe Philip Marlowe and Chandler’s most ambitious and per-
sonal work, built around hard-drinking characters who bear more than a passing resemblance to the author. And when
Marlowe isn’t being roughed up by thugs or framed for crimes he didn’t commit, he waxes philosophical about power,
money, and corruption. It’s noir lit at its blackest and bleakest. Share your ideas Monday, July 28, 7pm, at the
Austin
Chronicle
Book Club Twitter Chat,
#ACreads
.
– Robert Faires
28
THe courT of arT I I I
30
exHIBITIonIsM
31
THe good eye
49
arTs LIsTIngs
Patricia Highsmith
tHe criMe writer’s dark worLd is
stranger tHan (Literary) fiction
The decadelong revival of classic crime novelist Patricia
Highsmith continues apace, with a film of
The Two Faces of
January
starring Viggo Mortensen and Kirsten Dunst opening
stateside this fall, Todd Haynes’ screen adaptation of
Carol
under
way, and a reissue of her complete oeuvre in digital and print by
Virago Modern Classics.
Highsmith’s reputation doesn’t seem to be in doubt.
Nevertheless, critics tirelessly argue that the Texas-born writer
should be rescued from the crime fiction shelf and placed along-
side her more highbrow literary influences, which include
Dostoevsky and Henry James.
If ever a woman didn’t need rescuing, it was Highsmith. She
saw her first book filmed by Alfred Hitchcock, wrote the only lesbi-
an novel of her day without a tragic ending, and sold quite well
during her lifetime – well enough to turn up her nose at the
University of Texas’ offer to buy her papers for $25,000. (They’re
in a vault in Switzerland, thank you very much.) She preferred the
company of her pet snails to most humans, so much so that she
smuggled them to dinner parties in her purse.
Stylistically, Highsmith doesn’t compare to either the lush
James or feverish Dostoevsky. Her prose is blunt yet rarely imme-
diate, muffled by a veil of dissociation. The protagonists it suits
best are sociopaths like Tom Ripley and Vic of
Deep Water
, whose
“reactions were weeks late, so that he had a hard time attaching
them to their causes.” Minor gaps and redundancies alert read-
ers to the characters’ warped reality, but Highsmith herself feels
so close to her protagonists that there’s little room for judgment
or even separation. It’s not sympathy or empathy we feel for
Highsmith’s monsters but near-total identification.
That’s a darker proposition than anything in Dostoevsky, and
it’s a sight too dark for Hollywood. Film adaptations tend to light-
en Highsmith’s source material, endowing her unrepentant mur-
derer-protagonists with sympathetic qualities. Matt Damon’s boy-
ish Ripley in Anthony Minghella’s 1999 adaptation is masterful,
but more vulnerable and spontaneous than the original. (Perhaps
Damon knows this and wants another crack; he’s reportedly
expressed interest in filming
This Sweet Sickness
, one of
Highsmith’s creepiest, stickiest reads.)
Even Hitchcock couldn’t match Highsmith for shudders. Read
the novel before you catch
Strangers on a Train
at the Paramount
Aug. 18-19, and you’ll see that her full brutality didn’t make it to
the screen. The film shies away from the pattern Highsmith
would repeat over and over in her novels and short stories: A
repressed character watches or imagines someone else acting
out his own darkest desires from a seemingly safe distance,
then suddenly becomes the transgres-
sor. Highsmith characters are constantly
pretending to be murderers, only to find
themselves actually murdering people, as if unconscious wishes
were contracts signed in blood.
Even
Carol
, her lesbian-themed novel, was originally called
The Price of Salt
, as if to compromise its happy ending on the
title page. Highsmith was simultaneously tormented by guilt
over her own homosexuality and a seething resentment of
the conformist postwar society that pathologized her
dream of “a house in the country with the blond
wife whom I love.” She reserved her most glowing
depictions of sex for snails (“How they did adore
each other and how perfect they were together!
The glutinous cups grew larger and touched,
rim to rim”); to my knowledge, no other writer
has penned so many stories in which snails
murder humans.
Highsmith taps into something repellent – say,
slimy – about what fiction does, with its vicarious
thrills and morbid delights. She’ll always be an
author’s author because of how keenly she savors
fiction’s voyeuristic doubleness, which goes beyond cine-
ma in satisfying our desire to think the very thoughts of a
murderer. Better to leave her as a nasty little surprise for those
who stray from higher-minded sections of the bookstore.
Highsmith’s books, like their author, are strangers no matter
where you meet them.
– Amy Gentry
theArts
@AusChronAr ts