Sunday, April 17, 2016

Greeneland, Highsmith Country, and Papaville?

Image from amazon

Authors live and write in their own virtual countries, places of their imagination, but close enough to the real world to be terrifying, or hilarious, or both. The fictional territory created by the late Graham Greene in novels such as The Third Man, The Confidential Agent, and The Ministry of Fear became known to his readers as Greeneland.

Patricia Highsmith was known for chilling novels like The Talented Mr. Ripley. Probably the best known is Strangers on a Train, filmed as a thriller by Alfred Hitchcock in 1951. Joan Schenkar, Highsmith's recent biographer, reports that the Dark Lady of American Letters invented a name for her fictional territory: Highsmith Country. Recently, a movie of another Highsmith story been made, The Two Faces of January.

Last week I listened to a collection of short stories by Ernest Hemingway. "The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber," told in his signature spare prose, conveyed me to the heart of the strange world of Papa Hemingway. In this story, a wealthy but joyless American finds a brief "happiness" on a hunting safari, when, with the help of his cold-eyed British guide, he kills a buffalo, at great risk to both their lives. In this as in so much of Hemingway's prose, the woman is predatory and sexually manipulative, while the men are yoked and hardened by the macho roles they cannot or will not throw off.

Perhaps the term Papaville could be applied to the world created by this third author, who, like the other two, wrote out of the great historic upheavals he witnessed, from the failed Spanish Civil War and the Great Depression through WWII, the end of colonialism, and the dystopic societal depression that followed.

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