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Haynes’s direction largely hews to the conventions of old Hollywood: in “Carol,” there’s a sex scene between the two women, played by Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara, but it’s more swoony than libidinous.The characters don’t use the word “lesbian”; the dialogue is mannered.Haynes’s approach suits the novel, which is neither prim nor explicit about the women’s affair.Our image of the fifties still tends to be shaped by “Father Knows Best” clichés of contentedly conforming nuclear families. “The Price of Salt” depicts a world where a suburban matron could take a salesgirl she’s just met out for Old-Fashioneds in the middle of the day—and where two women in love might live together, hiding in plain sight as roommates, more easily than two gay men or an unmarried heterosexual couple might.The love story is at once hijacked and heightened by the chase story.Therese’s feelings, massing at the edge of her perception like the storm clouds out the car window, are a mystery to her.When her analyst suggested that she join a therapy group of “married women who are latent homosexuals,” Highsmith wrote in her diary, “Perhaps I shall amuse myself by seducing a couple of them.” She never married Brandel—or anyone else.
A detective hired by Carol’s husband pursues the couple, and you can feel Highsmith’s thriller muscles twitching to life.
December of 1948, Patricia Highsmith was a twenty-seven-year-old aspiring writer with a murderous imagination and an outsized talent for seducing women.
Her first novel, “Strangers on a Train,” was complete, but it would be more than a year before it was published.
The weight of what goes unsaid as she and Carol talk about the towns they pass or where they might stop for breakfast builds in an almost ominous way.
Like a girl in a fairy tale who has been put under a spell, Therese falls silent on the open road: “She did not want to talk.