The driver made a left turn that rolled Rydal against the truck’s right wall. Rydal huddled behind the short door again. They were now in a district with less lights. The truck stopped for a red. Rydal jumped out. His rubber soles made a slapping noise on the street, but he doubted if the driver heard. Also, a man and woman walking under an umbrella saw him, but so what, Rydal thought. People rode trucks sometimes, drivers let off their workers here and there, and his clothing was not so good that he couldn’t be taken for a truck-driver’s assistant. Besides, it was dark. Besides, the man and woman walked on. Besides, he was free!
. . . He could not go back to his hotel for the rest of his clothes or his notebooks of poems or his few books, and he was being sought by the police at this minute, and he was without a passport or identification. But he had thirteen thousand dollars in his pocket, and he was free, as only a nameless person of his time could be free. It would not last long, he knew. But for these few hours, he would have it — freedom — he would savor it, he would rejoice in it, and he would never forget it. It was like being suspended in some element that did not really exist on Earth, like the element in which angels flew, or spirits communicated with one another.
This passage, extraordinarily lyrical for Highsmith, comes as close as any in her work to touching on the secret of her appeal. Disturbing as her novels are, it would be churlish to deny the heady pleasures — the weirdly intimate excitement — her existential adventure stories afford. Highsmith’s genius was to tap into some element that does not really exist on Earth but rather in some secret recess of our brains where we fight with our doubles, hunt and are pursued, change identities like clothes and wake up to find our photographs staring at us from the front page of the newspaper. She would have agreed with T.S. Eliot that poetry is not the expression of personality but an escape from personality. "Write what you know" is what creative writing teachers tell us, but Highsmith did no such thing. She wrote what she dreamed, what she imagined, what she suspected — and the result is fiction unlike any other. Her novels are hard to categorize and even harder to describe, but perhaps this shouldn’t bother us. "I like to avoid labels," Highsmith wrote. "It is American publishers who love them."