Originally published as The Price of Salt, by Claire Morgan, this 1952 novel was actually written by Patricia Highsmith. The most recent edition was published under the title Carol.
The opening scene, where Theresa waits on Carol at the doll counter of a department store, is inspired by a similar encounter in Highsmith’s life. In the story, Theresa is bowled over by Carol’s beauty and self-possession and sends her a thank-you note for her purchase. To her surprise, Carol contacts her and invites her to lunch. Over a short period of time their relationship intensifies.
Carol is in the middle of a divorce and invites Theresa on a cross-country vacation to give herself a break from lawyers. They realize mid-trip that Carol’s soon-to-be-ex-husband, Harge, has hired a detective to collect evidence of their affair, to assure he will be granted custody of their daughter.
The story is told from Theresa’s perspective and I must confess I did not find her very likable. She keeps boyfriend Richard dangling for weeks after beginning the affair with Carol and encourages another man during the trip. She is uncertain of herself and rather grasping; she lashes out at Carol and changes her mind repeatedly. Perhaps we can excuse her on grounds of her youth and her childhood spent in a cold boarding school.
Carol is sometimes manipulative and short-tempered, and does not know what she wants. Her former lover, Laura, comes into the picture repeatedly.
Patricia Highsmith had several affairs with women, at a time this not was socially acceptable. It is not surprising she chose to publish such volatile material under a pseudonym in 1952.