The Comedians by Graham Greene

I stole this book from the Peace Corps headquarters in Azerbaijan.

But who hasn’t? I recently made another trip overseas to see Kiersten, and one day we stopped by the PC headquarters in Baku. While its provisions are by no means extravagant, the HQ keeps a supply of donated clothing, equipment, and of course, books, for the volunteers take as they please. I’m not a volunteer, but when I see a Graham Greene novel on a shelf, my psychological condition compels me to grab it and attempt to justify to all witnesses my keeping it.

The fedora roof was a little-known hallmark of postmodernist architecture.

“Just take it,” said a nearby volunteer.

“Really?” I said. “But this stuff is for you guys. I’m not supposed to–”

“Please. Just take it.”

I like to think her insistence was based on the idea they have too many books already, and not a loathing for Greene. Either way, it’s mine, and it accompanied me on a sad plane trip back home.

In case you’ve never read Greene, he was one of the premier espionage novel writers of the 20th century. He had the uncanny knack for being in a country just before it would erupt in a civil war or revolution (granted, this was the 50s and 60s, so it was hard not to be in one). Perhaps the most famous example of these is The Quiet American, a prophetic indictment of American involvement in Vietnam.

The Comedians is drawn from his experience in Haiti during “Papa Doc” Duvalier’s reign of terror. The main character, who identifies himself as “Brown,” is an ex-pat who owns a hotel that stands empty (an everpresent, machete-wielding secret police isn’t conducive to a country’s tourism). He has been ruined by the Papa Doc regime but seems resigned to accept its atrocities as a bystander. But two other parties come to Haiti: The Smiths, American progressives who aspire to promote vegetarianism foreign countries, and “Major” Jones. Jones is an shady but affable chap who uses oddly archaic British terms and is doubtful to have ever been a Major at all. When Brown presses Jones for the reason he’s in Haiti, Jones coyly insists it’s for business.

Jones may be a grifter, a spy, or something similar, but whatever it is he’s terrible at it. “The Major” runs afoul of the dictator, and Brown reluctantly comes to his aid. This eventually threatens Brown’s relationship with his mistress–something he’s far more protective of than his decaying hotel and will go to desperate ends to preserve.

The Greene Plot Machine

Another arrogant, unhappy adulterer who is in a position to have his likable friend/rival killed. The Comedians is formula Graham Greene: this is The Quiet American, Haiti Edition. A bad book? No. But a duplicated plot cheapens both novels for me.

Also reappearing is Greene’s attack on US Cold War foreign policy, particularly America’s regrettable tradition of propping up tyrants based on their promise to kill Communists (and they never stopped at just Communists). He can be depended upon to refrain from preachiness, though, in his political message. He lets the heinousness of the Tonton Macoutes secret police speak for itself, and many of the incidents described in The Comedians are ones he’d actually witnessed–including the police interrupting a dissenter’s funeral to hijack the body.

If you’ve read The Quiet American, this is skippable, but the Haitian history is worth knowing. You might honestly choose to read one novel or the other based on the nation of interest. The Comedians an historically significant work, though, and was personally condemned by Papa Doc Duvalier, himself. But screw him. It’s chilling to read this knowing that Haiti’s tragedies would not cease even with the death of the dictator; his similarly vicious son would rule until 1986, and the 2010 earthquake would kill hundreds of thousands. (I found a Post-It in the back of my copy addressed to a Peace Corps volunteer from a fellow PCV recommending this book based on its perceived timeliness)

Reading this, though, I’m reminded that I want a Graham Greene for this era. Who is he/she, and where is this writer right now, blending morally complicated literary fiction with urgent foreign journalism?

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The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton

This book feels very Austenian at first: how a family makes money is much less topical than how it keeps it via strategic ball-going and strategic marrying. But the point where this novel ceases being Austenian is where it starts becoming good.

"How vulgar: they do not clothe their cherubs."

Let me get something straight. The Strategic Ball-going Society can be the setting of a story I thoroughly enjoy, but I need the protagonists to hate it. I need them to hate it like Winston and Julia hated Oceania. It’s not a question of solidarity with the characters — it simply guarantees something consequential will happen in this stupid, soul crushing place. Rock this boat, somebody. You’re limited to drawing room gossip sessions about the Miltons and the Granbys and the Skillingbrokes while you plan your luncheons: do something more worthy of contemplation than marry each other after pursuing the wrong people for 350 pages.

But The Age of Innocence is not what its opening suggests. Edith Wharton does a head fake toward Austen and then makes a fast cut toward Thomas Hardy, and what you eventually find is a pair of lovers struggling to liberate each other from their societal Purgatory.

New York in the 1870s is a very small place if you’re rich. It marks the twilight years of “Society” (the kind you capitalize) — where high-standing families intermarry and reputations are made or broken depending on who invites you to dinner. The Age of Innocence is about a period in America where the old money tradition is about to marginalized by people who can actually get rich, too, by doing something. The American Dream had antagonists, and these established aristocrats are them, perched on high and digging their talons in harder than ever.

Newland Archer is the grown-up golden boy who is discovering, albeit slowly, that he wants more than the staid tradition of the same dinners, the same operas, the same smoking room conversations with the same intellectually unambitious people. And he’s discovering this too late: he is betrothed to May Welland, pixie-like Stepford wife extraordinaire. May’s cousin, Ellen, has returned disgraced from Europe after fleeing a marriage gone sour. Taking pity on her (and to avoid marrying into a tainted family), Newland helps Ellen recover her reputation and legally counsels her not to divorce her overseas husband.

And expectedly, he becomes drawn to her. She’s a candid free spirit who lives alone among the Bohemians and is a natural coquette. Newland can barely bring himself to acknowledge it when it’s happening, but his attachment to “Madame Olenska” is growing much stronger than is… appropriate.

Pangs of New York

Wharton’s discreet prose kept me leaning into the book: character reactions are subtle but telling, and notorious affairs are hush-hush but there. The most memorable scenes for me were the dark, intense fireside encounters between Ellen and Newland and Newland’s wedding day, where you reach the distinct, terrifying conclusion that he isn’t just marrying May– he’s marrying everybody in the social circle.

Speaking of the social circle, it is indeed populated with vivid characters who are mostly loathsome except the titanic Mrs. Manson Mingott, where Wharton dispenses all her best fat jokes (“…the immense accretion of flesh which had descended on her in middle life [was] like a flood of lava on a doomed city…”)

Granted, when the plot enters the latter half of the book, the record starts to skip.

Ellen: Here we are in a secret place. I’m thinking of going back to my husband.

Archer: No! No! No! No! No!

Ellen: Then, will you leave May?

Archer: No.

[Repeat]

Obviously the conflict is between Newland’s desire for Ellen and his obligation to family and tradition, and there’s enough tension here to keep you guessing if this putz will actually take the plunge… even if nothing happens for a while. But how much does he actually love Ellen as a person as opposed to a promise of lust and freedom? By that same token, since May is merely a smiling android, you get the impression that the person definitely doesn’t hold the appeal for him, either, but rather the promise of a secure lifestyle.

The book’s uncompromising ending is a thing to admire, and sealed it for me that when I closed The Age of Innocence I closed a great (though sometimes irksome) book. And one better catering to my cynicism than I expected, which should get me excited for Wharton’s more famous Ethan Frome. I hear that one ends quite nasty.

Guys Reading Girls

You could argue that I typically don’t. (Pssh! Typical guy!) Looking at my Books Reviewed page is telling in this regard.

Books I reviewed: 55

Books I reviewed that were by women: 10

Books by women that I highly recommended: 2

So maybe you’d find it hypocritical of me to praise the existence of this list I found, but here it is:

250 Books By Women All Men Should Read

This was compiled by Joyland in response to Esquire’s recently re-posted “75 Books Every Man Should Read”, which drew some ire because it has fewer chicks than a Star Wars movie. According to Joyland“The problem was that the list was all male writers, save for lone lady Flannery O’Connor. This really does imply that men don’t/can’t/shouldn’t read women and we were pretty sure that wasn’t the case among readers.”

1 woman out of 75 writers! Bet my ratio looks much less piggish now. You can practically hear Esquire smashing Miller Lite cans against its forehead.

Naturally, I find Joyland’s list a lot more interesting, and it contains more authors that I haven’t already read. Ironically, though, their list actually includes… a couple guys (apparently since David B. Feinberg and Christopher Isherwood were gay, they count as women). Since it’s compiled of several people’s suggestions, some books appear multiple times, like Middlemarch and Beloved. And there’s more representation by actual male contributors than I expected.

This gets one thinking about one’s own contribution to said list, being a gentleman who has certainly enjoyed his share of literary works by ladies. I’ll name here my five best female-written books for dudes to read–a couple of which I think are actually better enjoyed by dudes.

Regeneration by Pat Barker

Depending on the day, this is my all-time favorite novel. Regeneration’s brilliance shines on nearly every aspect of masculinity in the face of war, including generational strife between sons and fathers, the reality of bravery and heroism, and insomnia-inducing moral conundrums. The third book in this trilogy (The Ghost Road) is the one that got the Booker, but the first installment is #1 with me.

Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel

One of the manliest books I read last year– in the way I’ve always thought The Prince to be a manly book. It could be read as a political survival tale in Henry VIII’s England: a time where anyone can die any way for any reason. Cromwell takes care of shit.

Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf

I tease the death- and flower-obsessed Woolf sometimes, but the God’s honest is I truly enjoyed this one. And like Regeneration, a large part of it concerns the horror of the Great War: through Septimus Smith, Woolf showed infinitely more understanding of shellshocked war veterans than the male experts of her time.

The Talented Mr. Ripley by Patricia Highsmith

May well be the best psychological thriller I’ve ever read.

A Lost Lady by Willa Cather

I haven’t read a Cather that I wouldn’t recommend to a dude (don’t let this cover mislead you, though). Her writing has an irresistible quality on its own, but what lodges these books in my memory is her ability to write from the perspective of a boy in love. I almost put My Antonia here: I’m not sure if I’d like it quite as much on a reread, but I do know I’ll always love the more vibrant A Lost Lady.

And when you’re done with those, read some Emily Dickinson and Dorothy Parker and Agatha Christie and then come back when you need more suggestions.

As for myself, I’ll be getting to some Edith Wharton real soon, bro, after I do some pullups and go drive a tractor.

Dead Souls by Nikolai Gogol

When you think of Russians, I’m willing to bet that ‘funny” isn’t the next word that comes to mind. My only concept of Russian comedy is, as it turns out, based on a single joke: I was to understand the amusing reversal inherent in the Soviet automobile’s tendency to arbitrarily direct its own operator.

Depicts the desperate plight of Russian serfs, as they commonly had no arms.

Predating that was Nikolai Gogol, who, regarded as Russia’s Mark Twain, was one of the Fatherland’s national treasures of 19th century literature.

Internet Fun Fact: you may recognize this author as your most common typo when you’re trying to pull up google.com.

When he was twenty-seven, he wrote a satirical play that was found to be such a sensational gutbuster that the Emperor cajoled all his ministers to go see it. I wanted to read Dead Souls out of the curiosity of “how does Russian funny work, exactly?”

The story concerns Pavel Ivanovich Chichikov, a nondescript fellow of hazy origin who drops in on a provincial Russian town asking about all its nearby nobles. He meets with the nobles, navigating the Austenian territory of manners and agreeability to make this modest proposal with each: You know your peasants who’ve died recently? I’d like to buy them.

See, in feudal Russia you have to pay taxes each year on all the serfs, or muzhiks, registered on your land. If any of your muzhiks die, they won’t be removed from state records until the next census, which is only taken every seven years or so. Until then you’re stuck paying taxes on “souls” who are actually dead. Now, if Chichikov comes along and proposes you sign over your dead souls to him to relieve yourself of the tax burden, what do you say? Maybe any number of things first, but eventually you’re probably going to say yes.

Why is Chichikov buying these souls? For most of the story, you don’t receive many clues. When the provincial folk learn of his deals and conjectures fly (involving everything from a kidnapping plot on the governor’s daughter to Chichikov secretly being the leader of a band of thieves), you want to tell the silly locals what’s really up, but frankly you don’t know, either. It’s a strange position for a reader to be in: you know everyone’s wrong about the main character, yet he remains just as much a mystery to you.

Bring Out Your Dead

The Pevear/Volokhonsky translation I read includes both Volumes I and II of Dead Souls. I mention this because Volume I is essentially a complete novel, and II is his unfinished sequel– the manuscript of which he burned, and years later, burned again (and then he died). My advice: when you get to II, just stop. Gogol didn’t want you to read it anyway, for what you’ll see is a misshapen fetus mercilessly snatched into the light.

But how is Volume I? Well, the thing is disappointingly bloated, like a bag of Lay’s where the chips are the story and so much else is air. Not that Gogol’s meanderings aren’t often worthwhile. The best of these are his embedded bitching sessions on the business of writing fiction. In a later chapter he introduces two ladies who will have a pivotal conversation, and he pauses to admit, “The author is in the greatest perplexity how to name the two ladies in such a way that people do not get angry with him again.” Because what novelist hasn’t, as Gogol goes on to describe, fretted over a safe name to christen even his/her minor characters? When Gogol isn’t advancing the story or complaining about the craft, he’s annotating the goings-on with some relevant wisdom:

We all have a little weakness for sparing ourselves somewhat, and prefer to try to find some neighbor on whom to vent our vexation, a servant, for instance, or a subordinate official who turns up at that moment, or a wife, or, finally, a chair, which gets flung devil knows where, straight at the door, so that the armrest and back come flying off: that will teach it what wrath is.

My favorite parts of the book are each time Chichikov gets down to brass tacks and makes his proposal to buy the dead souls from each landowner. In every case it amounts to priceless, hilarious dialogue. The landowners’ reactions run the gamut of bewildered acquiescence, revulsion, and even ready bargaining (“Let’s make it a hundred a piece!” says Sobakevich, who goes on to extol the merits of the dead people he’s selling to drive up the price). Based on those scenes alone, I see myself liking Dead Souls much better as a stage play. I don’t say that sort of thing very often.

All in all, I admire Gogol’s comprehensive portrait of Russian society, his memorable characters, and his writing style that’s irresistibly chummy with the reader. But why oh why was Dead Souls not more focused? If you don’t tolerate meanderings well, pass this book up. Otherwise, it’s worth the girth to discover its high points, which are more delightful than watching a bear on a unicycle, and more cerebral, I would say.

The Stranger by Albert Camus

The Stranger is one of those novels that, had it not achieved classic status, no one would bother finishing it. Halfway through the book, and nothing’s happened yet? You can’t do that. People tend to think that makes a book dull.

Don't let the dynamic cover mislead you on this one.

(Presidential Fun Fact: Years ago, The Stranger was brought back into the public eye because then-President George W. Bush reported that he’d read it over a weekend at Crawford Ranch. The pervading question in the media was not, “What did the leader of the free world think of the novel’s philosophical message?” but rather, “He read a book?”)

The first half of the novel is spent developing Mersault’s day-to-day, that he’s just an ordinary chap. Except he’s kind of an alien. His girlfriend, Marie, asks if he loves her. “I said that sort of question had no meaning, really; but I supposed I didn’t.” His pimp friend, Raymond, details his plan to punish one of his whores for holding out on him. “I told him one can never be sure of how to act in such cases, but I quite understood his wanting her to suffer for it.”

Eventually Mersault, through his friendship with Raymond, gets drawn into a feud with a group of justice-seeking Arabs. One hot afternoon confrontation with the Arabs on the beach, Mersault shoots one of the men. Five times.

What follows is Mersault’s imprisonment and prosecution, as an outraged public struggles to make sense of him, and he mostly doesn’t struggle to make sense of anything.

Some readers have hailed Mersault as a strong character, a hero. I’m not even of the opinion that he’s an anti-hero. What he is, is a hypothetical. That is, if a human being was resolved to live in the quiet knowledge that belief, personal relationships, and even killing are no big deal, how would that person respond to society, and vice versa?

You’d probably call that person a sociopath. Suffice it to say, The Stranger doesn’t speak to me because Meursault doesn’t speak to me, even in the pulpit-pounding speech that concludes every philosophical novel from here to Atlas Shrugged, which in this instance conveys Camus‘ message most directly.

Really, if you told me you identified with Meursault, I’d look at my watch and say, “Whoa, the time! I really have to go! Goodbye!”

But he does enjoy life, in way. It works for him. This lack of concern for anything but the present frees him from the usual human crises of love, obligation, and the hereafter. Of course, Meursault does indeed feel alive once he’s embraced his coming death–the only certainty of existence.

What’s to admire about this guy, according to existentialists? That he is what he is, and that he makes no attempt to appear otherwise. If he responds emotionally and sympathetically to his environment, if he just toes the line, it will save his ass. But he doesn’t do it. Society is unable to influence his nature: he only proceeds as to his essence.

He Shot Me Down, Bang Bang

As an existentialist character, Mersault’s function is to expose the absurdity of the frameworks that seek to impose their meanings and values upon him. So what is the absurd in The Stranger?

Religion. The magistrate and the chaplain try to make a gallows conversion of Mersault, and yes, they do look silly in the attempt. But is it because their intentions are ridiculous, or is it because you know that with this guy they’ll fail miserably?

The legal system. It’s not as concerned with the death of the nameless Arab as it is with the fact no one saw Mersault cry at his mother’s funeral– that there is the damning detail. Their scale of moral wrongs (specific to Camus’ French Algeria) is a bit off. The legal circus also showcases how an aghast public points the finger and shouts, “He’s not like us!” Well, he’s not like me, either. In fact, save for some unfair exaggerations, I find myself mostly in agreement with the prosecution on this one. Camus…  I think that means one of us is a little crazy.

What ultimately happens to Mersault is unwarranted. But I’m glad there aren’t more of him around. As he is a supposed representative of the existentialist mindset, is that the same as saying I’m glad there aren’t more existentialists around?

Or just existentialists with guns?

The End of the Affair by Graham Greene

This one's got slap-happy good-times written all over it.

 

Graham Greene is like an acquaintance I keep meaning to spend more time with, but we never get around to it. And whenever we run into each other, there’s some awkwardness involved.

GRAHAM: Hey, Doug, what’s up? I haven’t seen you since what, The Power and the Glory?

ME: I know, dude! That was like a year ago. But that was awesome–fun stuff. We should totally hang out again.

GRAHAM: Yeah, definitely, definitely. So-o-o, what have you been up to?

ME: Oh, man! Really busy! Working a lot, you know, new job and everything.

GRAHAM: I know how that is, don’t worry. Hey, I saw you read that Highsmith novel. I blurbed that one, you know.

ME: Right, I saw that! I was totally going to give you a buzz or something, see how you were doing.

Discovered among Kiersten’s half of the library was The End of the Affair, a wellworn paperback with “Library Book Sale” stamped on its flank. She hadn’t read it. Something feels subversive about finding a book of hers that she hasn’t cracked open yet and enjoying it to freaking pieces.

Maurice Bendrix is a semi-successful novelist meeting up again with Henry, the man he cuckolded. His tryst with the Henry’s wife began when he was researching Henry in order to write a civil servant protagonist. He and Sarah fell in love, but eventually she ended the relationship without explanation. Now he finds Henry (still in the dark about the affair) clearly perturbed. Henry reveals his wife may be seeing another man. Not only that, but Henry has also set up an appointment with a private investigation agency to look into it. He is reluctant to follow through on his jealousy and go meet the detective.

Bendrix, secretly as invested in Sarah’s doings as her husband is, says, “Why not let me go?”

So he hires the overly professional Parkis (easily my favorite character) to follow Sarah. Meanwhile Bendrix is meeting with her again, unable to determine whether he means her well or ill. Eventually Parkis delivers her diary to him– with all its illumination on their past.

So we have a classic case of unreliable narrator with a female character’s perspective being supplied later to turn the whole story on its head (an effect that’s almost a bonafide literary convention in itself). Sarah’s reason for ending things with Bendrix comes as a complete surprise, and with that the theological conflict in this book begins to take shape. Surely enough, an intriguing love-triangle story (which flirts with melodrama and self-indulgence) ascends a couple planes and becomes a principle-bending morality tale, with the characters assigning God all sorts of crazy roles in their relationship. And this is a book that started out with atheists.

Here’s an example of the shit we’re dealing with. Bendrix blames Sarah’s belief in God for tearing her away from him, then he blames the Almighty Himself. He struggles with hating God while still believing He doesn’t exist.

F. Scott Fitzgerald famously said that what one is ashamed of usually makes for a good story. No surprise, then, that The End of the Affair is somewhat autobiographical. It’s honest.

This book is heartwrenching in all the conventional ways I like to think don’t work on me. Startling revelations, death, a love that cannot be, etc. The truth is, The End of the Affair so successfully penetrates a cynical soul that, well… I ought not to read too many of these too often. In fact, if this reading took place years ago, due to my resonant personal circumstances this book would have nuked me.

The Talented Mr. Ripley by Patricia Highsmith

Written by Patricia Highsmith, who was herself a horrible person, The Talented Mr. Ripley is more than just a classic crime novel. It’s a character study of a horrible person who, in spite of your conscience, has your support in almost whatever he does.

This cover unsettles me. Because there's a big hanging light there that's doing nothing for this room.

Thomas Ripley is a twenty-five-year-old metropolitan drifter who gets the opportunity of a lifetime. His distant acquaintance, Dickie Greenleaf, is living a bohemian existence in Italy, much against the wishes of his millionaire father. Greenleaf, Sr. offers to send Tom to Italy in the hopes he can convince the prodigal son to return home. What begins as a posh vacation to Europe on someone else’s tab becomes an obsession for Mr. Ripley. He grows to envy and admire Dickie, so much that he weasels his way between Dickie and his girlfriend Marge, and the two chaps become inseparable.

Things get a little weird. Tom tries on Dickie’s clothes and practices his gestures. Marge accuses the boys of being a little too chummy. Sensing Dickie is turning on him, Tom realizes he is losing a companion (and more), and he panics. It’s a matter of time before Mr. Ripley kills somebody. But the murder, or rather murders, Tom commits aren’t so spectacular as his efforts to cover them up.

Moviewatching Fun Fact: I haven’t seen the movie yet. It has a younger Matt Damon evading European police, so I expect it’ll seem like a prequel that could be called The Bourne Condescension.

This book is damn good, even if it’s written with less panache than I’d expected. Highsmith’s prose is calculated and serene like its central character. This muffles the tension in places and lulls you into a sense of security. Tom is occasionally vulnerable, but you don’t get the impression that he’s as terrified as, say, I would be to talk to a police inspector in his circumstances. But that’s just how he rolls–even when he’s living the good life in Venice or Rome, he rarely seems present. Tom’s not fully plugged in to his pleasures, and neither is he, it seems, in to his troubles. You can see how this helps him succeed.

Alright, Is He Gay?

Yes.

Now, the really fascinating thing is this identity crisis that–

Wait, Hold On.

Is he really? In the later novels he’s married. Like, to a lady. And Highsmith herself said he wasn’t gay.

I know. But let me explain.

Most readers assume Highsmith is being coy with Ripley’s sexual preference, which is another one of this novel’s engaging facets–it complicates Tom’s motivations toward Dickie. You could argue that there’s more explicit evidence in The Great Gatsby that Nick Carraway is homosexual than there is here for Tom (because see, there’s this easy-to-miss bit in Gatsby that– well, that’s a whole other discussion). But I don’t think she’s keeping Tom’s sexual orientation ambiguous at all. Just unconfirmed.

It’s like a protagonist who really seems like a candy-holic. But you can’t really say, since at no point is it mentioned that he’s had so much as a bag of M&M’s. Still, when his attention isn’t fixed on himself, it’s on candy, and how “attractive” it all is. It’s hard to ignore that part when a lollipop is described to be “lithe as a tiger.” When it comes to other types of edibles, he either ignores them or thoroughly despises them in a catty manner. Other characters suspect he has a sweet tooth. You wonder why he specifically burglarizes a chocolatier. Even if there’s no part where this protagonist has himself a Sugar Daddy, I think this guy really likes candy.

The gay thing is fun to speculate, but not as fascinating as the massive identity crisis occurring in this book. You basically start by looking at what makes Tom such a successful con.

“His stories were so good because he imagined them intensely, so intensely that he came to believe them.”

Considering this, you look at the bewildering web he’s woven– another lie to stay ahead of the last, and so on– and you see that, yes, Tom is at least temporarily believing every vivid fabrication he feeds the other characters. What must that do to one’s mental state? That’s part of what makes Tom special, and why he’s one of the 0.01% of individuals who could believably pull off his scheme.

Interestingly, there comes a point where he must drop his impersonation of Dickie and revert back to Tom, and he doesn’t immediately know how to be himself again. He has to start consciously acting like Thomas Ripley, but before he can do that, he has to decide who Thomas Ripley is.

This has me grinning. You keep reading to see how he’ll stay ahead of the cops and the irritating goodniks he’s so adeptly duping. To figure exactly what is going on with Mr. Ripley, though, is probably worth another read altogether.