That nervy guy on the street, walking fast, stealing backward glances as if he is trying to lose someone, that guy who could be anybody. That guy is Tom Ripley. He thinks the man following him is a police officer but actually he is the father of one of his classmates, who offers him an interesting proposition. A proposition of a paid vacation to get back his son – Dickie Greenleaf – from Italy.
Dickie is residing in a small place in Italy called Mongibello, painting and spending his days at the beach, doing little else. For Tom, it is a win-win situation. All he has to do is to talk to Dickie and if he doesn’t agree to come back he can always say he tried. No harm done.
While their first meet is cold and perfunctory, Tom is able to build a friendship gradually. They are soon spending drunken nights on the streets, being nudged awake by police officers in a garden and planning vacations together. Tom has infact eclipsed Marge, who used to be the constant companion of Dickie.
But when Dickie snaps the friendship suddenly and starts to distance himself from Tom, returning to Marge, all of Tom’s insecurities return. The calls of ‘sissy’ by his aunt, who raised him, the people he had to tolerate and the acts he had to put on, everything comes haunting back. When he looks at Dickie, with his casual swagger, he starts thinking about how much he hates Dickie for spurning him away and belittling his friendship.
The trip to San Remo is Tom’s last with Dickie as his efforts to drag on their friendship have failed. However, he can’t help but notice how similar they look – he and Dickie – and how it would take just one strike to change his life. Neither does he have any qualms about doing the necessary.
In Tom Ripley, Patricia Highsmith gives us a character, who is a thinker, amoral, gifted and well adapted to play any role he gets into. But while the words flow seamlessly, it becomes more and more difficult to believe the set of circumstances that Highsmith lays out. More so for someone who is a regular reader of thrillers. While, I wouldn’t classify this as a thriller, as the events seem more or less predictable, I really liked Highsmith’s writing and wouldn’t mind checking out more of her novels just for that.