Guilt was Patricia Highsmith’s great theme. In her books even the good know they’re not innocent, and they carry an apprehension that they too will be found out. “Night was falling quickly, with visible speed like a black sea creeping over the earth,” reflects Robert Forester at the beginning of “The Cry of the Owl” (Grove: 272 pp., $14), one of her lesser-known works from 1963 and one of her most unsettling. Which is saying plenty. Forester is driving through the woods of Pennsylvania, about to do something he knows he shouldn’t. He’s an ordinary, decent guy and has a good job as an engineer with a firm called Langley Aeronautics. But he’s recently divorced and depressed, and he likes to stand in the dark, watching a woman he doesn’t know through her kitchen window. He sees her frying chicken or hanging the curtains or setting the table for dinner. He never gets close enough to tell whether she’s pretty or not, but he already knows she has a boyfriend she likes. She drives a light-blue Volkswagen. The happiness that Robert imputes to the life of this woman he’s never met calms him and gives him comfort. He genuinely wants the best for her. Yet he’s a voyeur, and doesn’t he deserve to be punished? He will be, beyond all measure.
more from Richard Rayner at the LA Times here.