Valpolicella in Venice: The Talented Mr. Ripley

Posted on: October 1st, 2019 by

When I read Social Creature, then perused the reviews on Goodreads, I was surprised by the vitriol from folks calling it a cut-rate/derivative spin/lift of Patricia Highsmith’s The Talented Mr. Ripley. I really enjoyed Social Creature, but had no point of Ripley reference since I’ve never read said classic. But then fate intervened.

Well, not fate but rather my desire to find a reading group. I came across one at Brooklyn’s The Center For Fiction that would be exploring all five of Highsmith’s Ripley books. Which, I came to learn, are collectively referred to as “The Ripliad.” (Book nerds are so clever.) The books were published over the course of 46 (!) years, so I’m very interested to see how the character and writing develops.

I’ve not seen the movie staring Matt Damon, Gwyneth Paltrow, and Jude Law. I can’t wait to pass judgement on Matt Damon’s casting and performance as Tom Ripley. Also Paltrow as Marge Sherwood. But I’ll say right now that Jude Law as Dickie Greenleaf is brilliant. As far as the book goes, Tom Ripley is a fascinating character. The way he is able to channel nervous anxiety into cool action, cover numerous bases, and be calculating all the while traveling in great style is remarkable. Well, the way Highsmith molds, shapes, and moves Ripley renders him indelible.

I’d say more but I don’t want to provide any spoilers. I’m curious to see what the folks in my class have to say about Ripley, particularly regarding his sexuality and how Highsmith writes about it. I’ll have to go back and review the key passages closely.

The Talented Mr. Ripley Contemplates an Italian Red Wine

The Talented Mr. Ripley, and perhaps a nice Valpolicella.After gracefully extricating himself from another (potential) jam, Tom’s in the mood for a reward:

He was going to have something luscious and expensive to eat—whatever the Grand Hotel’s specialty was, breast of pheasant or petto di pollo, and perhaps cannelloni to begin with, creamy sauce over delicate pasta, and a good valpolicella to sip while he dreamed about his future and planned where he went from here.

What would a Valpolicella taste like in the 1950s, I wonder? Today they have a tendency to be bigger and brawnier than I like, as if winemakers were trying to create a baby Amarone. (That’s why I love the Prà Morandina Valpolicella. A see-through, chillable red. Perfect for Ripley’s dinner, no? Cut through all that game and cream. AND DELICIOUS PLOT I WANT TO SPOIL!!!)

Circling back to Social Creature, I look at it more as a modern update replacing letters with Instagram posts as a plot device. If I had to do it all over, I’d read that book first then tackle The Talented Mr. Ripley.

But I have no regrets. Nor regrets over how I’m crushing my Goodreads challenge for the year. I’m at 24 out of 30 books, with three months left. And just a day or two away from polishing off book number 25. Read it and weep!

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