A Welcome Response

Suspense Fiction

Fall 1998
Earl Jackson, Jr.


One of the students whose response paper I

posted anonymously on our site, along with my interstitial comments sent me the following email letter, in response to   my response. I post this with her permission. I am very grateful to her for sending me this message and especially for letting me place it here. I welcome the opportunity to clarify a few things, and I also definitely welcome responses to my responses and disagreement and most of all conversation. While I of course am going to respond, I think it important to let this letter stand on its own first, uninterupted by me. The link at the end of this letter will take you to my response. I have to fight my obsessive explanatoriness – wanting to supply more context now, but that would be unfair. The text is question can be found at www.anotherscene.com/suspense/net2/two2.html

First of all I want to say that it upsets me that you would take my arguments so personally as to belittle me with snide comments. From your comments on my paper, I had the impression that because I disagreed with you, you considered my points obtuse.

My papers in the future may disagree with your opinions or viewpoints, and I think it’s only fair that you treat them with the same respect I and the other students give you.

Now, I’d like to address the specific comments you made, from the top.

The word „female“ isn’t a harsh word to me. I agree with you that it’s used more often in biology. I suppose I use it more than „woman“ because I’m majoring in Molecular, Cellular, and Developmental Biology. Why do you think it’s a harsh term?

I also didn’t misuse the word „mundane.“ My dictionary says it means „dull, routine, normal.“ Of course, the meanings of words change from year to year as our language evolves.

In class, you had told us that realism was a genre of literature. I asked you last week in class, „If the genre of realism imitates real life, literature reestablishes categories, and paraliterature questions these categories, then where does the genre of realism fit in?“ You answered that realism is a genre of literature. You didn’t say then that realism isn’t a genre.

I also had looked up realism on the internet. The website http://www.english.upenn.edu/~afilreis/88/realism.html

Here’s an example of when Ripley lied to himself. On page 10-11, Ripley told himself he was going to Italy for Mr. Greenleaf, and not just for a free trip. He didn’t want to tell Bob about it because „all that crummy bum would see in it was a free trip.“ Ripley didn’t care about Mr. Greenleaf or Dickie. He had no interest in Mr. Greenleaf’s problem with his son until the offer of a free trip came up on page 7. He really was in it for the free trip, but he tried to convince himself it was for a nobler reason.

I wasn’t afraid of „being accosted by a fictional character.“ I was I was saying that the character of Ripley fit a category, much like those re-enforced by literature, that women are taught to recognize. Ripley is an imitation of real life.

What I was trying to say was that because everything was so mundane through out the first half of the novel, there wasn’t any expectation of it being anything but mundane. Suspense novels would have at least some anticipation building up by the middle of the novel. I should have been clearer on that point.

When you were lecturing about Patricia Highsmith, you said she’s more concerned with how and why than who. The only information she gave about why Ripley was so psychologically and morally messed up was his Aunt Dottie. So, yes, I think there’s enough information in the first novel to draw that conclusion.

Tom’s drive is an imitation of a real life drive. He’s not real, so his drive isn’t real, but an imitation.

My whole point was that The Talented Mr. Ripley is an imitation of real life (realism), which is why I said it’s story line is similar to something from the newspapers. Newspapers report crimes from real life, thus the similarity.

I was arguing that The Talented Mr. Ripley is not suspense fiction, but is in fact a part of literature, which is why I compared it to the Man in the Iron Mask, and The Prince and the Pauper. They have similar themes. Doesn’t theme play a part in categorizing a novel? I think I made a valid point, and I don’t appreciate you making fun of it. If you disagree with my point, why don’t you just say so and tell me why, rather than belittling it?

You didn’t think Ripley’s trip to Italy was tragic? He killed two innocent people and got away with it. I think that’s tragic. (By billboard, I meant those huge corkboards that college campuses post events and crimes committed on campus.)

There wasn’t just one thing in the novel that imitated real life. The whole novel imitated real life. I don’t understand how you could say in class that realism is a genre, and then turn around and say that it isn’t when it includes a novel you don’t think belongs there.

My dictionary defines anticipate to most nearly mean expect. I wasn’t expecting anything interesting to happen. Suspense novels are suspenseful. There’s a long period of uncomfortable anticipation for answers to some question in suspense novels. There was no question in The Talented Mr. Ripley to be answered so there was no suspense or anticipation. Even if there was a question in Highsmith’s novel, I would have to care about what the answer could be, in order to feel anticipation.

I don’t think people are as protective of little boys as little girls, which is why I don’t think men are as suspicious of people as women are. Because of this, I think women are more aware of morally and psychologically disturbed people existing in the real world. I think this is why The Talented Mr. Ripley seemed more mundane to me than it did to you, and this is why I brought it up in my paper.

I think to care what the outcome of the novel is, you do have to care about the characters. If you don’t care if the character lives or dies, then why finish reading it to find out?

What do you think anticipation means?

Charlette didn’t kill two people in her Daddy’s gazebo. Her lover’s wife killed her lover in the gazebo, but you don’t find that out until the end. Hush, Hush Sweet Charlette is a great movie. You should see it.

What do you mean by „You needn’t fret for her“? Is that sarcasm? I’m aware that none of them existed. What’s the point of reading a novel, if you don’t care how it ends? Shouldn’t you want to know what happens to the characters. I agree that you can absolutely hate a character and want to know what happens to him, just to see if he gets what’s coming to him.

However, some characters don’t bring out any emotions at all.

I’ve understood anticipate to mean the feeling of expectation, like when expecting an answer. It implies strongly wanting to know the answer, and waiting for the answer.

I don’t understand how you can criticize how I categorize my novels based on my „own, very private system“ when we all categorize novels based on our own private system, seeming as our expectations of a genre aren’t set on a specific set of novels. You haven’t given us a definition of the suspense genre; instead, you left it up to us to decide for ourselves where the boundaries of suspense lie. My boundaries are closely set, I suppose.

What is your definition of suspense fiction?


Earl’s Response
The First Response
Another Conversation