Likely Stories : The Cry of the Owl, by Patricia Highsmith

Sep 30, 2021

I’m Jim McKeown, welcome to Likely Stories, a weekly review of fiction, non-fiction, and poetry.

Patricia Highsmith died February 4, 1995.  She was an American novelist and short story writer widely known for her psychological thrillers.  The Cry of the Owl is one of my favorites. 


The story begins, “Robert worked nearly an hour after quitting time at five.  He had nothing to hurry home for, and by staying on at his desk he avoided the chaos of employees’ cars that left the Langley Aeronautics parking lot between five and five thirty.  Jack Nielson was also working late, Robert noticed, and so was old Benson, who was usually the last” (1). […].  Jack asked for a favor, “I had something to ask you.  Could you possibly lend me ten bucks till payday?  Today happens to be—” // “Oh, sure,” Robert reached for his wallet.  (1).  Two ordinary friends said good-by.  But the evening was not over.

To continue, “Robert drove to a small town called Humbert Corners, about nine miles from Langley, and took a narrow macadam road out of it, into the country. // He wanted to see the girl again.  Maybe for the last time, he thought.  But he had thought that before, and no time before had been the last time.  He wondered if the girl was why he had worked late today, when he had not needed to work late; if he had stayed late just to be sure it would be dark when he left the plant? // Robert left his car in a lane in the woods near the girl’s house and walked.  When he reached her driveway, he walked slowly, kept going past the basketball goal at the end of the driveway, and entered the grassy field beyond. // The girl was in the kitchen again.  Its two squares of light showed at the back of the house, and now and again her figure crossed one of the squares, but stayed mostly in the left square, where the table was.  To Robert’s view, the window was like the tiny focus of a camera.  He did not always go closer to the house.  He was very much afraid of being seen by her, of being hauled in by the police as a prowler or a Peeping Tom.  But, tonight was a very dark night.  He moved closer to the house” (3). 

Highsmith wrote, “Robert shuddered, remembering his state of mind last September, when he’d come to Pennsylvania.  He’d only been more depressed than ever before in his life, he had actually believed that the last bit of optimism, will, even sanity he possessed was running out of him like the last grains of sand in an hourglass. (7). 

Suddenly, a car came up the driveway.  Robert hid behind a basketball court.  Patricia wrote, ‘Hi, Greg!’ the girl called. // Hi, honey.  Sorry I’m late.  Brought you a plant’ (8).  The Cry of the Owl, by Patricia Highsmith is a thriller to the end.  5 Stars!

Likely Stories is a production of KWBU.  I’m Jim McKeown.  Join me again next time for Likely Stories, and happy reading!