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Patricia Highsmith – People Who Knock on the Door

December 9, 2007

120. People Who Knock on the Door by Patricia Highsmith (1983)

Length: 320

Genre: General fiction

Started: 7 December 2007
Finished: 9 December 2007

Summary: When his younger brother Robbie survives a bout with tonsilitis, Arthur Alderman’s father Richard becomes a born-again Christian. Robbie is heavily influenced by his father, while Arthur rejects their new-found faith, and their mother just tries to keep the peace. Tensions build in their household, affecting Arthur’s love life and education, until the entire situation can’t help but explode.

Review: The shelving guide on the back cover of my copy says “Fiction/Mystery/Suspense”, this has to be based on Highsmith’s other work and not on this book, because only one of those three terms is at all applicable. There’s no mystery to speak of, and the only suspense is wondering when the plot is going to start. The book is essentially a year in Arthur’s life, and while stuff happens, the plot doesn’t really have any motor behind it, and nothing particularly interesting happens until at least 3/4 of the way through the book. Furthermore, all of the characters seem pretty flat, even Arthur, without a whole lot of depth or inner complexity. No one really undergoes any growth or transformation over the course of the book – everyone’s attitudes are more or less the same at the end as they were at the beginning, making the reader wonder what was the point of the intervening 300 pages. Finally, this book is pretty down on born-again fundamentalist Christians, which in itself is not necessarily a problem for me. However, what did bug me was the fact that it was so easily dismissive of the entire topic without giving even a hint of the other side of things. It’s fine to point out the ridiculous hyperbole and hypocrisy of some born-agains, but when what you’re knocking down is little more than a cariacatured cardboard cutout, then it makes the “victory” ring a little hollow. 2 1/2 out of 5 stars.

Recommendation: It read pretty quickly, but that’s probably because there wasn’t a lot of substance there. Not exactly unenjoyable, but on the whole I wouldn’t bother.

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  • p. 236: “‘You getting very far with that little thing?’ Arthur asked, because Norma was using secateurs instead of hedge-clippers.” – scissors or shears, esp. pruning shears.
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