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Tales of the Natural and Unnatural [Paperback]

Patricia Highsmith
3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
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Book Description

Jan. 31 1994 Highsmith, Patricia
In this eerily up-to-date collection, Highsmith's incisive prose chronicles a world gone slightly mad, its catastrophes precipitated by human folly and excess. From the White House under siege by the homeless to a 190-year-old woman perpetually near death and dimly glowing, each tale unfolds the illogical extremes of humanity in the late twentieth century. Highsmith transmogrifies the face of daily existence to lay bare its manifold dark motives. These stories leave us haunted with "afterimages that will tremble--but stay--in our minds" (The New Yorker).

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From Publishers Weekly

Master storyteller Highsmith ( Mermaids on the Golf Course ) offers an eerily up-to-date collection of modern horror tales. On the cutting edge of technology are "Operation Balsam; Or Touch Me Not," about the government's problems in disposing of nuclear waste and an ingenious bureaucrat's solution, and "Rent-a-Womb vs. the Mighty Right," where surrogate mothers unionize and take on the religious fundamentalists. "President Buck Jones Rallies and Waves the Flag" culminates with the end of the world, while "Trouble at Jade Towers" embodies one of the city dweller's worst nightmaresenormous, unkillable roaches. Most of the stories take current trends to their logical and horrific conclusions, as in "Sweet Freedom! And a Picnic on the White House Lawn," which concerns the wholesale release of "harmless" patients from mental institutions. Highsmith looks at our civilization with a remorseless eye. Almost anyone trying to change things for the better is destroyed, even the Pope in "Sixtus VI, Pope of the Red Slipper," who is martyred trying to bring justice to the poor.
Copyright 1988 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Library Journal

The richly imagined but brutal fables in Highsmith's newest collection are gothic horror tales mixed with a dash of macabre humor. One is a reprise of Moby Dick told from the furious whale's point of view; another shows scientists experimenting on cancer-ridden corpses. When the corpses are buried in the cemetery behind the hospital, enormous blobs of fungi grow from themeventually to become a great tourist attraction. For Naomi, 190 or 210 years old, there is truly "No End in Sight." She is without one redeeming quality, prompting Highsmith to imply that it is too bad that "they don't push the old folks over cliffs anymore." In Highsmith's grim, sardonic view, people pollute the earth and carry evil within them. Not for the squeamish or the escapist.Marcia Tager, Tenafly, N.J.
Copyright 1989 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Inside This Book (Learn More)
First Sentence
On the outskirts of the small town of G- in eastern Austria lies a mysterious cemetery hardly an acre in size, filled with the remains of paupers for the most part, their places marked by nothing at all, or at best by tombstone fragments now all in the wrong spots. Read the first page
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Most helpful customer reviews
3.0 out of 5 stars Tales to give you nightmares March 26 2000
Format:Paperback
This book was classed as Mystery & Suspense, but presumably just because "that's what Patricia Highsmith writes." I'd class it as fantasy. These stories describe completely recognizable worlds, but "gone slightly mad" as one review accurately puts it. Some are enormously disturbing - I tried not to fall asleep in the middle of one because I feared the nightmares it would kindle!
That said, it's far from my favorite Highsmith. The stories just don't grip like most of her work - I couldn't stay awake when I tried. Peculiarly, many of them seem both too short, i.e. sketchy, and too long, i.e.moral/story could have been delivered much more quickly.
Perhaps mostly a good book for Highsmith completists; it's always interesting to read a favorite author's forays into a different genre.
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4.0 out of 5 stars This is the real Highsmith Aug. 24 2001
Format:Paperback
These stories are interesting and well-conceived. They are not always what you would expect - but hat's what Highsmith does best. This is not Strangers on a Train or The Talented Mr. Ripley, but it is clever fiction, well rendered.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Amazon.com: 3.2 out of 5 stars  6 reviews
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Neither Here, nor There, but not bad Jan. 22 2009
By lin - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
My only exposure to Highsmith prior to reading this book is Hitchcock's Strangers on a Train, which I loved. But somehow I can't believe the same person wrote them, as these stories hardly leave an impression me like Strangers on a Train did. The style reminds me of Catch-22 by Joseph Heller--a sort of mad-hatter of absurdities--which held me initially with a few painful chuckles, but it got old quickly if the story was too long.

Overall, I was not impressed by this particular work, but I am intrigued enough by what I've read to see her talent used in a different direction.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Stories that are not so much scary as just icky July 22 2009
By Dave Deubler - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
Mystery and suspense writer Patricia Highsmith offers tales of Gothic horror in the tradition of H.P. Lovecraft in a thoroughly modern (and at times, almost futuristic) setting. Most of these stories struck this reviewer as more unpleasant than truly horrifying, and more often than not, the bad guys only got what was coming to them, so no regrets. And as mysteries, these stories were not overly clever, and seemed to go on far too long for the amount of plot. If this was done with the hope of building suspense, it largely failed. Meanwhile, the topics of nuclear waste, plagues of insects, and the struggle for women's rights each figure prominently in more than one story, making this collection seem needlessly repetitive - a little more variety in subject matter probably would have helped. This reviewer's favorite tale was "Sweet Freedom! And a Picnic on the White House Lawn" which at least had a pleasant subplot. Also, "Sixtus VII: Pope of the Red Slipper" was pretty good and at least well-intentioned. The others fall short of being genuinely frightening without being funny, or clever, or presenting any positive message. The author certainly delivers on what the title promises, but this reviewer wonders "to what point?"
4 of 6 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Tales to give you nightmares March 26 2000
By A. C. Seligman - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
This book was classed as Mystery & Suspense, but presumably just because "that's what Patricia Highsmith writes." I'd class it as fantasy. These stories describe completely recognizable worlds, but "gone slightly mad" as one review accurately puts it. Some are enormously disturbing - I tried not to fall asleep in the middle of one because I feared the nightmares it would kindle!
That said, it's far from my favorite Highsmith. The stories just don't grip like most of her work - I couldn't stay awake when I tried. Peculiarly, many of them seem both too short, i.e. sketchy, and too long, i.e.moral/story could have been delivered much more quickly.
Perhaps mostly a good book for Highsmith completists; it's always interesting to read a favorite author's forays into a different genre.
4.0 out of 5 stars Fun, Funny and Sometimes, Profound Oct. 31 2013
By Kindle Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
You should take my review with a grain of salt: I am an inveterate Patricia Highsmith fan. The stories in this collection range from silly to significant, funny to scary, but all are a good read, especially on a dark and stormy night before going to sleep! My favorite is "The Mysterious Cemetery," the opening story, but I enjoyed the grief, gore, and absurdity of all the tales, particularly "Trouble at the Jade Towers."

I also enjoyed The Animal-Lover's Book of Beastly Murder. The odd thing is that I am not particularly an animal lover. I especially dislike and distrust dogs although I have had successful long-term relationships with a few cats and a fish or two. Nevertheless, this collection of bizarre stories written from the point of view of pets, zoo animals and other wild or domesticated creatures is fun to read, often funny, and occasionally sublime. Animal lovers (and, perhaps, people haters) will especially love it.

All of Highsmith's short fiction tends to be weird, a characteristic I enjoy! If you agree, you should also pick up Little Tales of Misogyny.
1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Highsmith reaches beyond her proven strengths.. March 25 2002
By lazza - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
Patricia Highsmith is known for her tightly-woven psychological mysteries, especially where anxiety levels of the accused criminal approach the breaking point. Ms Highsmith has also published many short stories of lesser quality, mostly because she has a shorter runway for building the suspense. Having said this, her short story collection 'Eleven' does have nice juicy bits.
In 'Tales of Natural and Unnatural Catastrophes' Paticia Highsmith turns her attention to modern issues (eg, pollution) and writes some rather strange stories where these issues are turned upside-down. I would broadly classify them has horror rather than mystery/suspense, and they are quite readable. Yet one gets the impression that this is all very old hat. And this material relects the general demise of Highsmith's works during the latter part of her career (1980s onwards).
Bottom line: okay, but Highsmith has done much better than this.
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