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The Price of Salt: A Book I Am Reviewing

All right. Gonna sit down and talk about The Price of Salt, which is an important enough book to get its own post (even though I was up stupid-late last night being excited about things, so I am going to do things like write "up-stupid late").

Why is this book relevant to you AT ALL? Well, they're going to start filming a movie version of it with Cate Blanchett and Mia Wasikowska (it's going to be called Carol, apparently, which is an alternate title of the book anyway). So if you like those ladies, you might want to read this beforehand.

SO. Book. What are you.

From the cover we can tell that, oh, this appears to be a book about a young woman, perhaps set in the past, and she seems ANXIOUS about something. Oh my, I wonder what.

The girl is Therese, the year is 1953 (or thereabouts), and she starts out the book working in a department store, like you see in the movie Elf. Only she works in the doll department and doesn't believe in Santa as far as I know. She's 21, is trying to get work as a set designer in the theatre, and is thoroughly depressed by her job. Mainly because of the atmosphere of the Corporate Environment and the people she sees who've worked there for years, stuck in the same rut.

So you know something's going to change for her, because 1) This book would be extraordinarily boring otherwise, and 2) She really doesn't want to end up like her co-workers.

This beginning made me a bit nervous, as I very much do not like depressing novels. Or novels where someone is in a depressing situation and the author is trying to Show Something by not getting her out of it. BUT, I soldiered on, because I knew something about this book, and that is the reason I picked it up (aside from the primary fact actually that Sue Perkins recommended it via twitter).

Slight spoiler, I guess, but it's the one I had going in and you don't know HOW it's going to happen; you just know it's going to happen: this is a lesbian novel that ends happily. "WHAT?" you thunder. Yes, I know. Or you would thunder if you were aware of every other book surrounding this time period and before it that had to do with this subject. I mean, if two people are engaging in a morally degenerate situation,  you surely don't want them to end up HAPPY at the end? Think of the CHILDREN.

This was indeed written in the early 1950s, and if I might quote Patricia Highsmith from the afterword (it gives nothing away that I haven't already):

"Prior to this book, homosexuals male and female in American novels had had to pay for their deviation by cutting their wrists, drowning themselves in a swimming pool, or by switching to heterosexuality (so it was stated), or by collapsing—alone and miserable and shunned—into a depression equal to hell."

So, y'know. That wasn't ideal.

Ok, so Therese is working at this doll counter, and then one day she sees this beautiful, fancy-looking lady and she freaks out, sells the woman (Carol) a doll, writes her a card, and they go out for lunch. Then Therese starts going over to Carol's house all the time. Which is weird, but ok. And Carol's fine, but distant, and she seems fairly condescending, and it just makes you feel kind of awkward and like "Thereeeeese, I don't want you to get huuurt," because the book's all third person limited narration or whatever that was that I learned in 6th grade English, so you identify with Therese, and when she buys Carol an expensive handbag and Carol's later like "You didn't have the money for this; you shouldn't have bought it," you CRINGE.


Basically they end up going on a road trip from New York, and they cover a lot of the country. And it's totally great and something I want to do. And then really stressful, bastardy 1950s things happen, BUT THEN the last 20 pages. Oh, last 20 pages. You make this book. The cover says it inspired Lolita, which, I don't know about that, but there are definite similarities. Only, y'know. No pedophilia. Which I think should give it a leg up really.

There's a big long quote in it, but people don't read big long quotes, so here's the tail end of it, which I thought summed things up quite nicely (go 1950s Highsmith):

But the most important point I did not mention and was not thought of by anyone—that the rapport between two men or two women can be absolute and perfect, as it can never be between man and woman, and perhaps some people want just this, as others want that more shifting and uncertain thing that happens between men and women.



So. I liked it. It's not The Well of Shitty Loneliness. That book I picked up off the library shelf, walked away to check it out, started reading the first page, AND IT WAS SO BAD I turned around and put it back on the shelf. This is not that. This is well-written and thought-provoking and ahead of its time and all that jazz. Hurrah.

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