I recently read Patricia Highsmith’s People Who Knock on the Door (1983), about a teenager and his family in early 1980s small-town middle America: “In a pitiless story of prying suburban self-righteousness, Patricia Highsmith introduces the Alderman family as the descend into moral crisis.” The father and his younger son embrace the mores and rules of a moralistic church, while the older son, whose pov we follow, rejects it; “when the church elders start to interfere in [his] love life, events spiral toward violence.”
The back cover had me at pitiless and prying (that, and the London Sunday Times’ contextless blurb ‘Venomously accurate’) — and it was a good read. Highsmith wrote Strangers on a Train (1950), which Hitchcock later filmed, and The Talented Mr. Ripley (1955), and is a master of creating a sense of disturbance and uneasiness in the most ordinary circumstances – or perhaps of revealing it.
Here is a comment on ritual, as the older son, Arthur, considers it in his mind:
“Ritual, he thought, kept people on an even keel. He remembered thinking this in the days just after Maggie’s letter of good-bye to him, remembered making himself do things in the same old way, when he really felt like breaking something, maybe a piece of furniture. He remembered thinking that ritual kept people calm and that it was a major part of religion, the getting up and sitting down in church, the singing of hymns when nobody bothered to think much about what the words meant. Outward form. And what was inside half the time? Misery, hell and confusion. And why didn’t people face it? Because they couldn’t.”