readers associate Patricia Highsmith with her Tom Ripley novels starting with The Talented Mr. Ripley.
These are novels that have been made into several popular movies. Of her protagonists, most of them are killers,
or would-be killers. Throughout her writing career Patricia Highsmith returned again and again to the short story,
publishing eight collections in her lifetime. “The Quest for Blank Claveringi” (the slightly awkward name was
simplified to The Snails for its publication in the Saturday Evening Post) is from her first collection in 1970
called Eleven. The subject was gastropods—on its face a strange choice of subjects—but a natural one for the author,
she had a thing for snails. Patricia Highsmith kept snails by the hundreds as pets. She was known to take snails
(presumably very special ones) to parties on leaves of lettuce in her handbag, and she smuggled her pet snails into
France where she lived for many years.
For this story Patricia Highsmith scaled up her snails to monster size giving them teeth that would,
in the real world, only threaten a leaf of lettuce. They now had the ability to saw through tree branches.
And then she enhanced their speed just a bit, enough to put them in harmony with their great size.
Next she placed them on an uninhabited island with just enough vegetation to leave them slightly hungry.
And then she dropped in Avery Clavering, an out-of-shape professor determined to capture a giant snail
and have his name go down in the scientific journals as a great discoverer. The somewhat arrogant intruder
finds himself a little unprepared for such a heroic task. Perhaps Patricia Highsmith was getting a little
bored with her pets. Her reimagined favorites were sent out on a hunt of their own—with a notion to
run down Avery Clavering and secure, if not a trophy, certainly a good meal.
Click here to read a review of The Snails on BooksAndVines.com.
The Snails is published in an edition limited to 100 numbered copies and is contained in a box with a cast-paper sculpture.
The text is printed letterpress in Koch Antiqua type on Lettra and Zerkall German Ingres paper.
The illustrations, done by Peggy Gotthold, are printed directly from the linoleum blocks in which they are carved.
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