The best erotic lesbian pulp novel.

Literature that thrills.
May 23 2006 7:48 PM

Pulp Valentine

Patricia Highsmith's erotic lesbian thriller.

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Even now, 30 years on, Highsmith's bold denouement makes one want to squeak like a lost baby whale joyfully rejoining its pod.And in 1978, the novel's final promise of "heaven and hell" was even more exhilarating. Impossible not to identify with the vulnerable Therese; impossible not to see in Carol the fictional embodiment of that hallucinatory lover—tough yet sexy—who flitted so often through one's still-adolescent dreams. Politics had nothing to do with it. Indeed, if this was the counter-revolution, I was all for it.

Alas, I would collide soon enough with my very own Abnormal Older Woman: a pulp-fiction vamp far less amiable than Mrs. H.F. Aird and far more like the typical Highsmithian sociopath. (She would obliterate my utopian-feminist phase soon enough.) But The Price of Salt had prepared me somehow even for this doleful turn. Despite the pulp melodrama and giddy finale, it was, and is, one of the most honest books I have ever read about being a lesbian. The erotic life Highsmith described was hardboiled, to be sure, and when the detective caught up with you, about as romantic as a spittoon. Yet there was power to be sought in being true to one's nature, Highsmith suggested—and possibly even some ecstasy along the way.

Terry Castle is a professor of English at Stanford. Her books include The Apparitional Lesbianand Courage, Mon Amie.

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