Eleven by Patricia Highsmith; or, Attack of the Killer Snails

eleven

Two of the eleven short stories and Patricia Highsmith’s collection Eleven involve killer snails. When I mentioned this to my lady friend, she asked ”Did Patricia Highsmith lose a bet with her editor?” and then lamented that Highsmith hadn’t worked killer snails into all the stories, if only for a cameo. There are some very good stories in the collection—I really liked Another Bridge to Cross, about a widower traveling in Europe. But still: snails.

The first of the killer snail stories, The Snail-Watcher, was mostly just strange. The second, however, was kind of great, and absolutely memorable. Most of the story is a long action sequence described so vividly I remember it more like a movie I had seen.

In that story, The Quest for Blank Claveringi, a man sails to an island in the South Pacific that is rumored to be home to giant snails. He wants to be the first to verify the giant snails’ existence and thus create a legacy for himself (his name is Avery Clavering, and he intents to name the snails after himself) . He gets to the uninhabited island, which is 3 miles by 1 mile, and it has tall trees but has been completely cleared of low-lying brush. After searching our hero finds a giant snail, about 25 feet high, asleep in a ravine, and he takes photos. The snail begins a slow pursuit of Clavering, and so after a while does a second snail, who has chewed through the line tethering his sailboat to the shore. The boat is a half-mile out to sea, and this guy is stuck on the island, and the snails are closing in. The chase goes on for days. The snails are slow, but they never stop.

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