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Strangers on a Train: 02/27/13

cover art

Strangers on a Train by Patricia Highsmith is another of those books I discovered because of its film adaptation. In this case, it's one of my favorite Alfred Hitchcock films, taking turns with Psycho and Rear Window for the honor of being THE FAVORITE of the moment. The novel, though, also has the honor of being Highsmith's debut and damn, what fine debut it is.

Two men — Bruno and Guy — meet on a train bound for Texas and New Mexico. Bruno is a youngish playboy who wants nothing more than to get rid of his father so he can have more access to his mother's money. Guy is an architect (not a tennis player as he is in the film) wants a divorce so he can remarry. Bruno sets things in motion by taking care of Guy's problem.

Here, then is the big point of departure of the book and the film. Hitchcock makes Guy, his girlfriend and her family the indisputable heros. Guy is a victim of a deranged killer.

Not so for Highsmith's Guy. Although Miriam's death still comes at Bruno's hand, Guy's reaction is cold and calculating. Though reluctant to participate in Bruno's experiment, he's not against it on moral grounds — more out of a combination of laziness and a fear of getting caught. While he's not as unhinged as Bruno, he's not innocent — he's cold and calculating and perhaps the scarier of the two.

Four stars

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