The Talented Miss Highsmith, Joan Schenkar

This untraditional biography traces the life and loves of Patricia Highsmith, writer of such classics as The Talented Mr. RipleyStrangers on a Train, and The Price of Salt. Characterized by one editor as "the most unloving and unlovable person I've ever known ... a really terrible human being," it's nonetheless hard to look away from these fleeting glimpses of an eccentric. I'd read it again for the disquieting anecdotes alone:  at various points, we see Pat smuggling snails into France by concealing them under her breasts, toting tortoises along to parties, spooking house guests by jumping out at them from behind a tree, flinging dead rats through open windows, leaning over a burning candle at a dinner party to set her hair on fire, scrawling love notes for her mistress on her mirrors with red lipstick, and posing "with terrifying hostility" amid a wall "hung with her saws and hammers."

A fascinating, if rather long, exploration of a woman who perhaps remains unknowable in her strange genius.