The Cry of the Owl
|Publisher||Harper & Row|
|Preceded by||This Sweet Sickness (1960)|
|Followed by||The Two Faces of January (1964)|
The book tells the story of Robert Forester who, following a painful divorce, develops an obsession with the seemingly happy, 23-year old Jenny Thierolf. As a way of easing his own discontent with life, he begins spying on her, and is surprised when she invites him into her house after spotting him one night. A confrontation with her jealous ex-fiancé is the start of a series of hazardous (and ultimately fatal) events.
Following a painful divorce from his wife Nickie, Robert Forester leaves New York and moves to a small Pennsylvania town, where he develops an obsession with the seemingly happy, 23-year old Jenny Thierolf. As a way of easing his own discontent with life, he begins spying on her through her kitchen window, and is surprised when she invites him into her house after spotting him one night.
Jenny sees their chance meeting as an act of fate, and breaks off the engagement to her hot-tempered fiancé Greg Wyncoop. During the next weeks, Jenny in turn goes after Robert, contacting him at his home and the company he works at. Robert is offered a promotion at work (which will require him to move to another city), and he hopes this will put an end to Jenny's advances, which he is feeling increasingly uneasy about.
One night, Greg starts a fight with Robert, which ends in Greg being knocked unconscious and left on a river bank by Robert. Soon afterwards, Greg is reported missing, with Robert becoming a suspect for the police. Also, Robert's ex-wife Nickie tells the police that Robert once threatened her with a weapon. After a newspaper article on the case appears, Robert's promotion is withdrawn. A badly decomposed body is found in the river which the police believe to be Greg's, but the identification proves to be difficult. The fragile relationship between Robert and Jenny deteriorates quickly, and finally Jenny commits suicide after coming to the conclusion that Robert's appearance in her life symbolizes her death.
Nickie's new husband Ralph informs Robert that Greg's disappearance is actually a plot of Greg and Nickie against him. Later, Robert is shot at by Greg (severely wounding another person instead). Greg is arrested by the police but released. In a final confrontation between Robert, Greg and Nickie, Nickie is accidentally killed when Greg tries to knife Robert. Again, Robert is a suspect in an apparent crime scene.
- Robert Forester
- Jenny Thierolf – the woman whom Robert stalks
- Greg Wyncoop – Jenny's ex-fiancé
- Veronica "Nickie" Jurgen (née Grace) – Robert's ex-wife
- Ralph Jurgen – Nickie's new husband
- Jack Nielson – a friend of Robert's
- Detective Lippenholtz
Highsmith wrote The Cry of the Owl between April 1961 and February 1962. According to her biographer Andrew Wilson, she considered it to be one of her weaker efforts, a criticism reviewers disagreed on. In 1967, British writer and critic Brigid Brophy stated that, of the novels written in the last twenty years, five or six stood out, including Highsmith's The Cry of the Owl and Vladimir Nabokov's Lolita.
The book's title refers to Jenny's belief that events in her life are acts of fate, preceded by foreboding incidents. The owl to her is a harbinger of death, as was a man in her childhood whose appearance (she believes) preceded her little brother's death, as is Robert when the plot thickens.
Highsmith's former partner Marijane Meaker (whose relationship ended about the time Highsmith started working on her book) stated in an interview that the character of Nickie was modeled after Meaker as a "retaliation".
Film, TV or theatrical adaptations
German director Wim Wenders also opted for the rights for a screen adaption in the 1970s. It was after he found out that the rights had already been sold that he instead chose to make Highsmith's Ripley's Game into the film Der Amerikanische Freund.
- Andrew Wilson: Beautiful Shadow – A Life of Patricia Highsmith, Bloomsbury, 2003.
- Helena de Bertodano: A passion that turned to poison, The Telegraph, 16 June 2003, retrieved 2011-12-8.
- The Cry of the Owl (France 1987) at the Internet Movie Database.
- The Cry of the Owl (Germany 1987) at the Internet Movie Database.
- The Cry of the Owl (2009) at the Internet Movie Database.