Carol (a.k.a. The Price of Salt) by Patricia Highsmith

This is one of those books that is thought provoking. The first things one should consider about this book are actually contained in the afterword written by the author. This book was written in the 1950’s when being gay was still considered an illness and a depraved madness. People who identified as gay or realized they were, went to great lengths to hide that fact and their relationships were often difficult and required extreme personal sacrifices and choices that can not even be imagined in today’s environment of relative social tolerance.

With that being said, the story kicks off in the early 1950’s when Therese, a set designer working a casual holiday job at a department store, meets Carol Aird. Carol is n the process of getting a divorce and going through a custody battle over her daughter Rindy.

The book unfolds slowly from that jumping off point. This is not a book that jumps from one action point to the next. It is a character study and it unfolds very slowly and very gradually. I don’t want to give much away because it would detract from the reader’s opportunity to discover this for themselves.

I can say that I went through a range of feelings about the two characters and that there were some points in the story that I was feeling very pessimistic about them and other times when I was just plain annoyed by their behaviors and choices. I usually had to step back at that point and reset my mind to time and place.

For those who are unfamiliar with gay and lesbian history, this book is a little slice of life for what it was like for men and women during that period and for some of the prevailing attitudes and opinions towards people who identified as gay and lesbian.

I have not seen the movie. I definitely wanted to read the book first. I knew in the end that I would enjoy it because I absolutely LOVED “The Talented Mr. Ripley” also by Patricia Highsmith. A great read but approach this as a marathon, not a sprint. Although the book is not long, it is slow. It is meant to be savored rather than devoured.

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