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People Who Knock On The Door [Paperback]

Patricia Highsmith
3.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
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Book Description

Nov. 29 2001
With the savage humor of Evelyn Waugh and the macabre sensibility of Edgar Allan Poe, Patricia Highsmith brought a distinct twentieth-century acuteness to her prolific body of fiction. In her more than twenty novels, psychopaths lie in wait amid the milieu of the mundane, in the neighbor clipping the hedges or the spouse asleep next to you at night.

Now, Norton continues the revival of this noir genius with another of her lost masterpieces: a later work from 1983, People Who Knock on the Door, is a tale about blind faith and the slippery notion of justice that lies beneath the peculiarly American veneer of righteousness. This novel, out of print for years, again attests to Highsmith's reputation as "the poet of apprehension" (Graham Greene).


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Product Description

From Library Journal

Published in 1954 and 1985, respectively, this duo offer more of Highsmith's signature characters in plots where fairly ordinary people perform extraordinary acts of brutality. The Blunderer finds protagonist Walter Stackhouse, who fantasizes about knocking off his wife, in hot water with the cops after the Mrs. ends up at the bottom of a cliff. When Richard Alderman becomes a born-again Christian in People Who Knock on Doors, his family is shattered, leading to a violent outcome.
Copyright 2002 Reed Business Information, Inc.

Review

Highsmith's novels are peerlessly disturbing...bad dreams that keep us thrashing for the rest of the night. -- The New Yorker

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Most helpful customer reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars Third-person Highsmith March 23 2003
Format:Paperback
This is an interesting work, if you're familiar with other Patricia Highsmith novels - and by "interesting," it is that it's not technically a crime novel (i.e., it's not the major theme of the novel), it's another display of the range of her capabilities, rather; also, that when the crime is committed, it's not from the person from whom we're watching the events through - it's sort of a third-person crime, in this way. And not for the usual reason. (I'll leave it there so that, even though another reviewer has told you who the killer is, the novel hasn't been completely blown for you.)

"People Who Knock on the Door" is still a very readable novel, since the differences don't really detract from the reading - it has the same storytelling style of other Highsmith novels, and is not a labor to read for it.

If you're looking for a DEEP WATER/THIS SWEET SICKNESS-esque suburban psychopath tale, you may find it slow and ultimately disappointing. (It is, however, rather like EDITH'S DIARY.)

But if you aren't, read on!
Was this review helpful to you?
4.0 out of 5 stars Third-person Highsmith March 23 2003
Format:Paperback
This is an interesting work, if you're familiar with other Patricia Highsmith novels - and by "interesting," it is that it's not technically a crime novel (i.e., it's not the major theme of the novel), it's another display of the range of her capabilities, rather; also, that when the crime is committed, it's not from the person from whom we're watching the events through - it's sort of a third-person crime, in this way. And not for the usual reason. (I'll leave it there so that, even though another reviewer has told you who the killer is, the novel hasn't been completely blown for you.)

"People Who Knock on the Door" is still a very readable novel, since the differences don't really detract from the reading - it has the same storytelling style of other Highsmith novels, and is not a labor to read for it.

If you're looking for a "Deep Water"/"This Sweet Sickness"-esque suburban psychopath tale, you may find it slow and ultimately disappointing.

But if you aren't, read on!
Was this review helpful to you?
1.0 out of 5 stars Disappointment! Jan. 6 2002
Format:Paperback
I consider myself a Highsmith fan (about halfway through all of her published books), and even I was profoundly disappointed in this one.
The plot trods along at a maddingly slow shuffle which does little except build the world of the protagonist, Arthur, a teenager who graduates from high school, finds a girlfriend, and starts college during the book's progression.
Over the course of 340 pages, though, we find out little about the father (who converts to Born-Again Christianity without any explanation), younger brother Robbie who commits the crime of the book (why was he driven to do it?), a group of older men who take Robbie in (why did they do this? who are they?), the mother (why did she stand on the sidelines as the plot unfolds? how does she feel about things?), or the grandmother who seems so unlike the rest of Arthur's family. Development and positioning in the storyline are haphazard and lack direction/purpose.
And, ultimately, we learn and understand little of Arthur, even after the methodical and careful building of his character and world. Perhaps more attention and time to the book's other characters would've addressed this lack.
My impression of this book is that Highsmith went through the motions of writing, and it seems almost as if someone else wrote the book using a template of sorts in an attempt to write a Highsmith-esque work. Unfortunately, the book and Highsmith's effort both disappoint and there is no reason to read the book, regardless of your Highsmith fan status.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Amazon.com: 3.4 out of 5 stars  14 reviews
12 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Today, on "Surburbian Hell with Highsmith" Nov. 14 2002
By Brent Holcomb - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
Patricia Highsmith pulls a one-two punch on readers with her disturbing "People Who Knock on the Door." The first punch aims at modern Christianity. The second aims at every reader who thought the first punch was aimed at modern Christianity.
The story is centered around Arthur, a recent high-school graduate, and the problems he has concerning his family. His father has recently become a Christian - a Bible-thumping, "Amen"-shouting believer. Because his children have not been raised in a Christian home, the father's conversion tears the family apart, and traditional Highsmith violence ensues.
Is Highsmith praising or satirizing modern Christianity? Her opinion is seemingly obvious, because the book is almost completely one-sided...or is it? It, in fact, is not one-sided at all. Patricia Highsmith brilliantly pokes fun at herself - and at everyone ready to criticize her - by ultimately making the novel a farce. A very dark farce, mind you, but a farce nonetheless. The "villain" character is extremely one-sided, as is the protagonist. And because of how the book ends, the reader tends to view Highsmith as one-sided, also.
In the end, neither side wins: If you're the Christian, Highsmith has pulled the wool over your eyes by getting you to read the book in the first place - you should be reading the Bible, you hypocrite. If you "agree" with her supposed views toward Western Religion, she pulled the wool over your eyes, too - you have become the cynical Arthur...it's easy to point fingers when you're the protagonist, huh?
I have come to expect sharp thrillers from Patricia Highsmith. "People Who Knock on the Door" is more than a thriller...it is a razor-sharp dark comedy that succeeds on every level.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Third-person Highsmith March 23 2003
By "vortex87" - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
This is an interesting work, if you're familiar with other Patricia Highsmith novels - and by "interesting," it is that it's not technically a crime novel (i.e., it's not the major theme of the novel), it's another display of the range of her capabilities, rather; also, that when the crime is committed, it's not from the person from whom we're watching the events through - it's sort of a third-person crime, in this way. And not for the usual reason. (I'll leave it there so that, even though another reviewer has told you who the killer is, the novel hasn't been completely blown for you.)

"People Who Knock on the Door" is still a very readable novel, since the differences don't really detract from the reading - it has the same storytelling style of other Highsmith novels, and is not a labor to read for it.

If you're looking for a DEEP WATER/THIS SWEET SICKNESS-esque suburban psychopath tale, you may find it slow and ultimately disappointing. (It is, however, rather like EDITH'S DIARY.)

But if you aren't, read on!
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Distinctly odd April 23 2007
By Jamie Mays - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
I've always placed Highsmith as a writer of the 50s and 60s. This book was published in 1983, and it's set in a peculiar version of the early 1980s in which characters are named Arthur and Cora and Mildred. It's also a peculiar place where high school students are offered beers and hot toddies by their parents and a teenager works at a neighborhood shoe repair shop. A place where an ex-boyfriend refers to his ex-girlfriend's new flame as "Mr. Hargiss." Highsmith was in her sixties at the time, so perhaps she felt a contemporary setting would update her unique brand of unease, but she doesn't quite make it. For example, she confuses "angel dust" with cocaine. Unfortunately, the bizarro-world details distract from the story, about religious fundamentalism and small-town gossip. It's still a good read, just a distinctly odd one.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Door to Door Sept. 27 2006
By RCM - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
"People Who Knock on the Door" may seem like a departure from the typical Patricia Highsmith fare. It is a story about the changes that occur in one family throughout the course of one year, a simple enough plot, but one filled with the sense of unease that proliferates Highsmith's writing. The novel is almost narrowly and simplistically focused at the beginning, but branches off as the story progresses, leaving readers unsure as to where to align themselves.

The novel opens rather vaguely, as Highsmith isn't one to state the obvious directly. The reader meets seventeen-year-old Arthur Alderman at the end of his senior year, ready to attend Columbia in the fall. When his fifteen-year-old brother Robbie becomes seriously ill, their father becomes a born-again Christian, suddenly devout to the Lord and expecting the same from his family. Arthur cannot align himself with his father's beliefs; he views his father as a hypocrite, a man who has preached the value of money all his life suddenly changing his beliefs and forcing his family to feel the same way. Arthur's mom goes along with this new life, in order to keep the peace, while his brother Robbie believes hook, line and sinker to the point of obsession.

When Arthur will not change his ways to suit his father, his father refuses to pay for college and kicks Arthur out of the house. Arthur's father cannot seem to see the damage he is creating in his own family, and when disaster strikes close to home and the tables are turned, it may be too late to reverse the changes he has wrought.

Highsmith spends a lot of the narrative following Arthur through his first year of college; it is a well-drawn portrait, but one that lacks the vividness of her best creations. Arthur rarely comes to life off the page, and that applies to the other characters as well. The story is somewhat predictable, the reader can easily guess most of what will unfold, but Highsmith is talented enough to maintain the suspense, subtly crafting cracks in Arthur's story. I found myself disliking the main character in the end; despite tragedy, he gets virtually everything he wants, but is he on the right side of the issues Highsmith writes about? And that is where the genius of "People Who Knock on the Door" lies - in the twists that take the reader from seeing everything from Arthur's perspective to questioning his ability to relate the story at hand.
3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Highsmith takes on Christian fundamentalists.. Feb. 21 2001
By lazza - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
With People Who Knock on the Door Patricia Highsmith deviates from her proven formula of closely examining the phobias of disturbed individuals, especially those who commit crimes or are the victims of crime. Instead Ms. Highsmith tells the story of a middle American family whose lives are turned upside-down when one of the members becomes a 'born again' Christian. Ms. Highsmith devotes considerable effort in exposing the hypocracy of such folks, and seems to humiliating 'them' (ie, those people who 'knock on the door' and tell others how miserable they are because they are not Christians).
While an enjoyable read, this book actually feels like the script of some made-for-TV film. I didn't get the sense of apprehension found in Patricia Highsmith's earlier works. And to be fair, her brutal views on Christian fundamentalists are a bit obvious. Too many cheap shots are thrown; the book is anything but a balanced view.
So I consider People Who Knock on the Door to worthwhile only for devout Highsmith fans. All others would be better off reading any of her earlier works (pre-1980).
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