If you’re a Tom Ripley fan, that charming psychopath created by Patricia Highsmith, you’ll get the nod in Emily Gray Tedrowe’s title. The Talented Mr. Ripley, Highsmith’s 1955 thriller, is on another level and the movie was pretty good, too. Matt Damon in particular was creepily perfect and a perfect creep in the role.
The Miss Farwell in question is Rebecca: Becky to her Pierson, Illinois friends and co-workers, but Reba Farwell as well, a rising art world power player in Chicago and NYC. Wait, what? How?!
It all starts with a chance encounter at the local state university’s museum. Passing time while her dad was at a health clinic, a painting stops Becky in her tracks. She loses time in front of the work; staring, feeling, listening, changing. Incredibly, the piece is for sale and in short time she comes back to take ownership of her first painting. She hangs it in her bedroom and is hooked.
Becky is a math whiz who can’t afford to go to college after graduating, so she finds a good job at Town Hall. She’s smart and observant and quickly gains the respect of her co-workers in accounting and the freedom to take on tasks no one wants. Becky starts noticing discrepancies, weird refunds no one else picks up on. She seizes on the idea of working it to her advantage, to fuel her new passion for art, which she calls the Activity.
Becky embarks on a dual life, each lived openly but separated by hundreds of miles. She has no problem with the deception, even to her sole friend, Ingrid. Her life as a patron of the arts and buyer / dealer is mostly financed through her creative bookkeeping. She takes here and there, but puts back, too. She’s just borrowing! First in the thousands, and eventually six-figures and even more. It’s a burden, all the worry and secrecy, but she’s driven by her need.
What makes Becky a likeable monster is her small-town pride, her sense of civic duty. Yes, monster. A sociopath for sure. There are plenty of deliciously cold scenes where her black heart and her sharp mind cuts people to shards. She’s calculating, always on the lookout for patterns and openings that will benefit the Activity. But still, you pull for her.
The Talented Miss Farwell tells Becky’s story from the ‘80s through mid 2010s. Year after year she gets more brazen and obsessed. The story almost verges on the unbelievable, but in the notes at the end we see it was inspired by a real story of midwestern thievery and fraud.
In plain sight is the best way to hide things, including from ourselves. Take a dip in the pool that is Rebecca Farwell: marvel at her cunning and be glad it isn’t you with the weight of another life your shoulders.
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