The Talented Mr. Ripley


Patricia Highsmith

Patricia Highsmith has been called a master of the psychological thriller. Her character Tom Ripley is as well.

Highsmith was the Edgar-award winning author of Strangers on A Train and The Price of Salt, recently adapted into the film Carol. Tom Ripley, introduced to the world in The Talented Mr. Ripley may have been her greatest invention: a psychopath with self-esteem issues who kills in cold blood, assumes the life of his victim, lives the high life in his victim’s clothes for a while — all the while holding the reader in thrall with some actual empathy for poor Tom’s predicament.

He remembered that right after that, he had stolen a loaf of bread from a delicatessen counter and had taken it home and devoured it, feeling that the world owed a loaf of bread to him, and more.

The Movie

Jude GwynethI had seen the Matt Damon-Gwyneth Paltrow-Jude Law film adaptation of The Talented Mr. Ripley in 1999, and loved it. All those gorgeous retro costumes. Italian scenery. Jude Law in a bathing suit. Philip Seymour Hoffman, Cate Blanchett and Anthony Minghella. It was nominated for five Academy awards and deservedly so. But I had not read Ms. Highsmith’s original work until recently.

The Book

And it is riveting. The Talented Mr. Ripley begins in New York with a decidedly untalented Tom Ripley running a series of minor cons in order to finance his woeful life. He’s out of a job, out of a home, out of friends. Until Herbert Greenleaf appears and begs Tom — as one of his son’s “dearest” friends — to travel to Europe, first class, on Herbert’s dime and convince son Dickie to come back home. It takes Tom all of about two seconds to jump on board and the next thing you know, he’s walking down the beach in fictional Mongibello (rendered on screen as the volcanic island of Ischia) having to introduce himself to an acquaintance who barely remembers him.


Alain Delon as Tom Ripley in the 1960 French adaptation, Plein Soleil

But Tom has decided to be the kind of guy who makes good things happen for himself. Whatever the cost.

There’s been a but of hubbub in my noon bookclub at the Carnegie Center Lexington recently about whether a book without a likable protagonist is a likable book. There have been loads of recent bestsellers whose less-than-likeable, ok . . . psychopathic . . . characters made them insatiable reads: Girl on A Train, Gone Girl. In a 2015 article, Sam Jordison of The Guardian takes on the topic by reexamining The Talented Mr. Ripley. When faced with a reader complaining of the lack of books with likable characters, Jordison suggests handing them a copy of the The Talented Mr. Ripley:

It is near impossible, I would say, not to root for Tom Ripley. Not to like him. Not, on some level, to want him to win. Patricia Highsmith does a fine job of ensuring he wheedles his way into our sympathies. It’s a classic story of someone who starts off down on his luck and disregarded, but who, through force of personality, hard work and sheer determination, manages to make something of himself. He’s had a hard upbringing. He lost his parents and was brought up by an aunt who called him a “sissy”. And yet, he came out the other end polite, self-effacing, hard working. He is endearingly shy in company and worried about the impression he makes on others. He is always assessing himself, always trying to improve.

And yet … eyeglasses_318-68634

He had appreciated Marc’s possessions, and they were  what had attracted him to the house, but they were not his own, and it had been impossible to make a beginning at acquiring anything of his own on forty dollars a week. It would have taken him the best years of his life, even if he had economised stringently, to buy the things he wanted. Dickie’s money had given him only an added momentum on the road he had been travelling. The money gave him the leisure to see Greece, to collect Etruscan pottery if he wanted (he had recently read an interesting book on that subject by an American living in Rome), to join art societies if he cared to and to donate to their work. It gave him the leisure, for instance, to read his Malraux tonight as late as he pleased, because he did not have to go to a job in the morning. He had just bought a two-volume edition of Malraux’s Psychologic de I’art which he was now reading, with great pleasure, in French with the aid of a dictionary.”

I truly enjoyed the time I spent in Mongibello with Dickie Greenleaf and his friend Marge and meeting their friends — and others. Your book club will enjoy it too. And there’s great Italian food to be culled. And lots and lots of Martinis.


Fresh greens simply dressed with good olive oil, balsamic vinegar and salt and pepper

Pasta with seafood. I would make linguine with white clam sauce because that’s my favorite. I buy the small cans of clams at the grocery store and use the recipe on the back but add white wine to the saute.



The setting of The Talented Mr. Ripley is reputed to be in the late 1950s though Highsmith throughout uses a date with the notation “19–,” leaving the question open. I tend to be influenced by the movie’s choice of music and would play:

Chet Baker

Charlie Parker

Miles Davis

Enjoy! Happy Reading!

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The Nominees on the Page

the oscarsTomorrow is Oscar night and so many of this year’s nominees owe their origins to some brilliant novelists. Here’s a look at the novels I’ve reviewed that will be center stage on the red carpet. Each review includes a book club novel-inspired menu, playlist of songs and sometimes my own movie cast.

David Ebershoff’s gorgeous love story, The Danish Girl, is nominated for:danish girl book

actor in a leading role, Eddie Redmayne

best actress in a supporting role, Alicia Vikander

costume design, Paco Delgado

production design, Eve Stewart

Here’s a link to my review:

the martian book

The Martian, originally self-published by Andy Weir chapter by chapter on his blog, is nominated for:

best picture

actor in a leading role, Matt Damon

production design, Arthur Max

sound editing

sound mixing

visual effects

best adapted screenplay, Drew Goddard

My review:

A charming little book by Jonas Johansson called The 100 Year Old Man Who Climbed Out a 100 year old man bookWindow and Disappeared is a Forrest Gump-like view of the 20th Century. I’d love to see the movie but it hasn’t made it to either Netflix or my city yet. Nominated for:

makeup and hairstyling

My review:

roomRoom by Emma Donoghue is nominated for:

best picture

actress in a leading role, Brie Larson

directing, Lenny Abrahamson

writing, adapted screenplay, Emma Donoghue

My review:

I haven’t read Brooklyn by Colm Tobin but I’d love to; the movie was beautiful.

Any predictions for winners? Oscar-statue



The Martian, by Andy Weir

the martian book

There’s life on Mars. But not the little green man or the Warner Brothers kind. This guy’s name is Mark Watney and NASA sent Marvin_the_Martianhim as part of a five-person mission, partly because he’s a botanist, partly because he’s a mechanical engineer and partly because he can weather intense situations with humor and cool decisiveness … and MATH. Reading Andy Weir’s debut novel, The Martian, actually made me slightly regret that I didn’t understand the mathematical calculations and scientific wizardry that hero Watney utilized to stay alive after he was left for dead on the Red Planet.

This is a FANTASTIC book. And I have to give a huge shoutout to narrator R.C. Bray who mastered Watney’s humor, NASA’s stress, and every single accent (German, Indian, Chinese, Brooklyn) with skill.

I finished listening to it today and was literally on the edge of my seat during the last twenty minutes.  The book was originally self-published, and then purchased by Random House and re-published on February 11, 2014 and I suppose the movie rights were already sold because Matt Damon, Jessica Chastain and a full Milky Way or Hollywood stars have already made a film that will be released on October 2, 2015. Here’s a link to the trailer: It looks good, Mr. Damon. Looks good. And I have to say I’m glad your old buddy from Southie is nowhere to be found in the cast list.

Since I listened instead of read the novel, I can’t tell you how great the prose was or how majmath-namesestic the imagery. Frankly, I doubt that’s what Weir was going for. I can tell you the math was astounding and the plot left me anxious to return to my drive so I could find out how Watney was going to survive the: explosion, deflated habitat, sub-arctic cold, lack of food,
rover crash, sandstorm, explosion, build-up of CO2, loss of communication with earth, explosion . . . you get the idea. Lots of math. AND it’s fascinating. Don’t ask me how because other than one year on the Math Bowl team (which surprised no one more than me), I have no capacity for the subject.

Not only does he use math, he uses botany to transform 12 potatoes, sent by NASA so the original six astronauts of Watney’s mission could have a “real Thanksgiving meal,” into several thousand. He uses chemistry to turn his own urine into rocket fuel. He uses astronomy in the form of a 16th Century Sextant and observations of the Martian moon to establish longitude and latitude. This guy is a walking encyclopedia of stuff I did not learn in school. AND I LOVED IT.

The novel, now transformed into a movie starring none other than Matt Damon, began as a free, serialized story on computer programmer Weir’s own website. He could find neither a literary agent nor a publisher willing to invest in the novel. Not only that, but the Washington Post is giving Weir credit for saving none other than NASA itself.


READ this book. And be prepared to spend a couple of days reading. Or listen to it. I’m very glad I did.

MENUspace food

We grew up eating “space food”sticks. Remember those? Sort of pre-Power Bar power bars. I found that you can still find these sticks in space museums. If that’s not practical, you can also order Astronaut Ice Cream from amazon. Both of these would be fabulously fun food to serve.

In the same vein, you could serve dehydrated apples or other fruit.

One item you will definitely want to serve is potatoes. Lots and lots of potatoes. Do a little Forrest Gump thing. Fry ’em, boil ’em, bake ’em, bake ’em twice, hash brown ’em, etc.


Rocket Man, Elton John

All by Myself, Eric Carmen

Staying Alive, The BeeGees

Space Oddity, David Bowie

Space Cowboy, Steve Miller Band

ABBA: The Album (Released 1975)


The movie has already been cast and though I’d quibble with one or two choices (Kate Mara I’m looking at you — does she look like a Johansson?), overall I like it.

Kate Mara Kate Mara
Beth Johanssen
Kristen Wiig Kristen Wiig
Annie Montrose
Jessica Chastain Jessica Chastain
Matt Damon Matt Damon
Sebastian Stan Sebastian Stan
Chris Beck
Sean Bean Sean Bean
Mitch Henderson
Chiwetel Ejiofor Chiwetel Ejiofor
Mackenzie Davis Mackenzie Davis
Jeff Daniels Jeff Daniels
Teddy Sanders
Michael Peña Michael Peña
Rick Martinez
Donald Glover Donald Glover
Aksel Hennie Aksel Hennie
Alex Vogel
Naomi Scott Naomi Scott
Sam Spruell Sam Spruell
NASA psychologist
Jonathan Aris Jonathan Aris
Brendan Hatch


National Book Award Winner: The Round House, Louise Erdrich

round house

Activities Around a Maidu Roundhouse. 1964. Frank Day, artist. Oil paint on canvas. Collection of Oakland Museum of California. Gift of Lyle R. Scott Collection.

It is 1988.  Joe’s mother arrives home covered in blood, in shock and severely physically and psychically injured.  She has been brutally attacked, raped and brutalized somewhere in the vicinity of a ceremonial Round House, a sacred space on the North Dakota reservation on which Joe and his family live.  Joe, a thirteen year old member of the Ojibwe tribe, decides it is beyond the ability of his father, a judge, and mother to mete out justice so he and his best friend Cappy take matters into their own hands.

The Round House by Louise Erdrich is literary fiction disguised as a crime novel, a searing portrait of the decimation of one family which represents the unjust degradations committed against a nation.

Walking through the kitchen door, I heard a splintering crash.  And then a keen, low, anguished cry.  My mother was backed up to the sink, trembling, breathing heavily.  My father was standing a few feet before her with his hands out, vainly groping in the air the shape of her, as if to hold her without holding her.  Between them on the floor lay a smashed and oozing casserole.

I looked at my parents and understood exactly what had happened.  My father had come in — surely Mom had heard the car, and hadn’t Pearl barked?  His footsteps, too, were heavy.  . . . Maybe he’d been too quiet this time.  Maybe he’d gone into the kitchen, just as he always used to, and then he’d put his arms around my mother as she stood with her back turned.  In our old life, she would have kept working at the stove or sink while he peered over her shoulder and talked to her.  The’d stand there together in a little tableau of homecoming.  Eventually, he’d call me in to help him set the table.  He’d change his clothes quickly while she and I put the finishing touches on the meal and then we would sit down together.  We were not churchgoers.  This was our ritual.  Our breaking bread, our communion.  And it all began with that trusting moment where my father walked up behind my mother and she smiled at his approach without turning.  But now they stood staring at each other helplessly over the broken dish.

Against this setting of sexual violence, Louise Erdrich’s main character Joe and his barely teen-aged friends are grappling with their own surging hormones and yearning for their own sexual experiences.  She contrasts the sacred round house with the Catholic church, dreams with reality, legends with the law, and the crime with justice system.  If the crime occurred on Native land, the suspect cannot be prosecuted because tribal courts may not prosecute non-Natives.  If it occurred on state land, state laws are in effect.  But Joe’s mother, the victim, cannot say where the acts occurred — only that they were somewhere in the vicinity of the round house.  As Maria Russo stated in the New York Times review of The Round House, “Law is meant to put out society’s brush fires, but in Native American history it has often acted more like the wind.”  ttp://

NYT imageNew York Times Illustration by Jon Han

The Round House was one of those books that kept popping up on recommended lists and I ignored it until the Carnegie Center’s Brown Bag Book Group chose it as a fall selection.  I’m very glad I read it.  As with all great literature, it opened a new world to my eyes; the closest I’ve been to North Dakota is probably Arizona or New Mexico but I haven’t any knowledge of Native American reservations or the Tribal Law and Order Act.  Nor was I aware, as Erdrich tells the reader in the afterword to her novel, that a recent Amnesty International report found “1 in 3 Native women will be raped in her lifetime (and that figure is certainly higher as Native women often do not report rape); 86 percent of rapes and sexual assaults upon Native women are perpetrated by non-Native men; few are prosecuted.”

The National Book Awards website features a blog appreciation of The Round House which you can read here: house cover

Ultimately, this is one of my favorite types of books to read and would be an excellent choice for a book club.  The prose holds a myriad of chewy topics, characters ranging from humorous to villainous, young to ancient and a plot that keeps you anxiously turning the pages.  For our purposes at daeandwrite, it also includes lots of wonderful food options, often even playing a role in the plot, which seems appropriate for a book whose protagonist is a teenage boy.

I took some apple slices and put them on my tongue.  I looked at Cappy.  We ate another jam sandwich each and just stood there watching in mesmerized hunger until (Grandma) started lifting out the fry breads.  Then we each took a plate and stood beside her.  She took the hot fry breads out of the bubbling lard with tongs and put the lumpy golden rounds on our plates.  We said thank you.  She wanted and peppered the meat.  She dumped in a can of tomatoes, a can of beans.  We kept standing there, our plates out.  She heaped spoons of the crumbled meat mix on top of the fry breads.  On the table, there was a block of commodity cheese.  The cheese was frozen so it was easy to grate on top of the meat.  We were so hungry we sat down right at the table.  Zack and Angus were outside, through her sliding doors, in the courtyard.  She made their Indian tacos now like ours, called them in, and they sat on the couch and ate.


The passage above provides plenty of fodder, excuse the pun, but if you want more options there are plenty more.  Banana bread, chili with hamburger meat, tomato paste, Rotel and cumin, bannock (flat bread), Juneberry jam.  As the weather has intermittently turned colder here, I’d go with the fry bread, chili and juneberry jam over vanilla ice cream.

Fry Bread

1 pkg. dry yeast

3 cups warm water

1 tbsp. salt

1 tbsp. sugar

6 cups flour

2 tbsp. oil

1/2 cup cornmeal

Dissolve yeast in warm water then add salt and sugar. Let stand for 5 minutes covered with a towel.  Add flour and oil to liquid mixture.  Mix and put on floured bread board and knead until mixture is smooth.  Put dough in a greased bowl, cover with towel and let it rise for 1 1/2 hours. Remove from bowl and put on bread board, knead in the 1/2 cornmeal.  Make dough into 2 balls rolling each into 12 inch circles 1/2 inch thick.  Cut into 2 inch squares and drop into hot cooking oil.  (Works best with cast iron skillet.)  Fry 5 to 6 pieces at a time for only a few moments.  Drain on paper towel and sprinkle with white powdered sugar.

Bannock recipe, if you want to try it:

Juneberry jam can be ordered here:


The Round House is set in 1988 so you could go with the hits of that year.  Faith by George Michael was the top song that year, believe it or not.  Egad.

Joe’s uncle Whitey loves The Rolling Stones and that’s never a bad choice.  I’d go with Some Girls, Emotional Rescue or Tattoo You, all released in the early 80s.

    I’m not even going to try to name any appropriate movie actors other than for Linden Lark and for Father Travis.

Linden Lark:  Matt Damon

Father Travis:  Brad Pitt

Happy Reading!