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Deep water by Patricia Highsmith
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Deep water (original 1957; edition 1982)

by Patricia Highsmith

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3661029,640 (3.67)25
Member:thorold
Title:Deep water
Authors:Patricia Highsmith
Info:Harmondsworth Penguin 1982
Collections:Your library
Rating:***1/2
Tags:fiction, crime, 1950s, New England, suburban, schizophrenia

Work details

Deep Water by Patricia Highsmith (1957)

  1. 00
    The Blunderer by Patricia Highsmith (sturlington)
    sturlington: Both domestic suspense involving impossible wives.
  2. 00
    Bullet Park by John Cheever (Bookmarque)
    Bookmarque: another subtle tale of the madness that lies at the heart of a placid seeming suburban neighborhood.
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Showing 1-5 of 9 (next | show all)
Deep Water was Virago Press’ pick for their February book club. I had wanted to join in with the book club at least once – so was delighted they picked a book I hadn’t read and one by an author I have wanted to read for a long time. Patricia Highsmith is probably best known for the Ripley novels and Strangers on a Train, this novel perhaps one that is less well known. Based solely upon the evidence of reading this, I will be reading a lot more novels by Patricia Highsmith.

Deep Water isn’t a typical mystery/thriller, it is deeply psychological, suspenseful and subtle. Highsmith forces us to side with a murderer, against all his potential victims. Somehow, we see their faults before his, feel his frustration, wanting him to succeed, against our reason.

“Vic didn’t dance, but not for the reason that most men who don’t dance give to themselves. He didn’t dance simply because his wife liked to dance. His rationalization of his attitude was a flimsy one and didn’t fool him for a minute, though it crossed his mind every time he saw Melinda dancing: she was insufferably silly when she danced. She made dancing embarrassing.”

At the centre of this novel are married couple Melinda and Vic Van Allen, a couple whose marriage has descended to one of mutual destruction. Neither of them seem to wish to end the marriage, each completely caught up in their peculiar brand of domestic misery. They have one young daughter Trixie, who is six, and since her birth Melinda has had no interest in her husband. Vic now sleeps in another wing of the house on the other side of the garage. He has his own interests outside his small printing press business, including the breeding of snails. He is an affable, likeable man, intelligent and studious, a good friend, neighbour and father. The Van Allens live in the quiet, affluent, town of Little Wesley, where Vic is highly regarded by his friends and neighbours.

Although Melinda has no interest in her husband, she does have quite a lot of interest in other men. Vic now finds himself in a rather embarrassing position. Melinda entertains her series of male conquests at their house, evening drinks, turn into very, very late nights. Vic, happily stays up to thwart Melinda’s plans. She insists that these men accompany her and Vic when they are invited to friends’ houses, where she dances with them, not her husband. It is a world of cocktail parties, pool parties, barbecues, and practically all day drinking. Vic and Melinda are invited everywhere, and wherever they go, Melinda brings a third guest.

Every few months, Melinda seems to have a new friend – and Vic is never quite sure just how far things go, though it is generally assumed these men are Melinda’s lovers. Everyone in their social circle sees how Melinda acts, and what Vic must put up with, and how it appears he is doing nothing about it. With Vic out each day at the Greenspur Press of which he is justly proud – employing two other equally enthusiastic local men – Melinda is free to please herself. She takes very little interest in her young daughter, and is drinking more and more. Her misery is evident, and yet cleverly, Highsmith makes her anything but sympathetic. Melinda is unfaithful, an inattentive, uncaring mother, she drinks heavily – so naturally the reader has little sympathy for her. Highsmith understands exactly how her readers will react to her characters – we fall into her trap and it is quite brilliantly done.

A few months before the novel opens, one of Melinda’s previous conquests was murdered in New York, the culprit not yet found. As Melinda continues to flaunt her affairs right under Vic’s nose, Vic decides to try and frighten the most recent off. He hints that he was responsible for the murder – and that if he ever had a problem with one of Melinda’s friends he would just kill him. The man concerned is seriously rattled, and gossip begins to seep through Little Wesley. Many of Vic’s friends immediately suspect the truth of what Vic was doing in saying what he did. There are other people, who know Vic less well, who seem to take it seriously. Melinda thinks the whole story is ridiculous, it gives her just one more reason to scoff.

However, Vic hadn’t counted on the real murderer being unearthed and splashed all over the newspaper. Vic is right back in the embarrassing position he was in before, and Melinda has a new man on the go. The lines between Vic’s real self and the one he has pretended to, blur, and it isn’t too long before Vic really does have blood on his hands.

“Vic watched the next few seconds with a strange detachment. Melinda half standing up now, shouting her opinions at the coroner – and Vic felt a certain admiration for her courage and her honesty that he hadn’t known she possessed as he saw her frowning profile, her clenched hands – Mary Meller rising and taking a few hesitant steps towards Melinda before Horace gently drew her back to her seat.”

Wilson, a local resident and part of the same social circle as the Van Allens, though not really a friend, watches Vic closely – joining forces with Melinda against him, Wilson becomes a thorn in Vic’s side.

“Vic kept looking at Wilson’s wagging jaw and thinking of the multitude of people like him on earth, perhaps half the people on earth were of his type, or potentially his type, and thinking that it was not bad at all to be leaving them. The ugly birds without wings. The mediocre who perpetuated mediocrity, who really fought and died for it. He smiled at Wilson’s grim, resentful, the-world-owes-me-a-living face, which was the reflection of the small mind behind it, and Vic cursed it and all it stood for. Silently, and with a smile, and with all that was left of him, he cursed it.”

Highsmith is apparently known for writing charming, likeable psychopaths and villains and in Deep Water she does just this.

This was an excellent read, intelligent and compelling, it is also very hard to put down. I am looking forward to exploring more by Patricia Highsmith. ( )
1 vote Heaven-Ali | Mar 16, 2017 |
Vic is a mild-mannered everyman whose drunk of a wife, Melinda, regularly has affairs and basically flaunts them in his face. All his friends are, naturally, appalled by her behavior and wonder, as we do, why Vic puts up with it. Finally, Vic is pushed too far and on impulse, murders one of his wife's lovers. Melinda publicly accuses Vic of murder, which not very many people believe, and the rest of the novel examines Vic's gradual disintegration.

Highsmith once again tackles the theme of the husband pushed too far by an unbearable wife, this time putting the microscope on an ordinary man in an ordinary town and asking the question of what would such a man do when pushed too far. It's an effective character study and suspenseful, even if the reader is pretty sure of what will eventually happen. Yet once again, Highsmith has given us no one much to root for here. It's not that I insist that characters be likable, but it would be nice if I felt like I could at least relate to them. That might make Vic's gradual dissolution more effective and chilling, but he's such an odd duck, with his weird hobbies and general inertness, that being in his head is more like observing an alien species than catching a glimpse of human nature. ( )
  sturlington | Feb 16, 2017 |
Excellent ! ( )
  Iambookish | Dec 14, 2016 |
quite a reading

Big Ship

21 August 2015 ( )
  bigship | Aug 22, 2015 |
Reviews
  gigi9988776 | Aug 25, 2014 |
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'There is no better dodge than one's own character, because no one believes in it....'

- Pyotr Stepanovich in Dostoevsky's
THE POSSESSED
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To E.B.H. and Tina
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Vic didn't dance, not for the reasons that most men who don't dance give to themselves.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0393324559, Paperback)

The great revival of interest in Patricia Highsmith continues with this work that reveals the chilling reality behind the idyllic facade of American suburban life.

In Deep Water, set in the small town of Little Wesley, Vic and Melinda Meller's loveless marriage is held together only by a precarious arrangement whereby in order to avoid the messiness of divorce, Melinda is allowed to take any number of lovers as long as she does not desert her family. Eventually, Vic tries to win her back by asserting himself through a tall tale of murder—one that soon comes true.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:09:24 -0400)

(see all 4 descriptions)

"Deep Water" is set in the small town of Little Wesley. Vic and Melinda's loveless marriage is held together only by Melinda's extramarital affairs. Eventually, Vic tries to win her back by asserting himself through a tall tale of murder--one that soon comes true.… (more)

(summary from another edition)

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