Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Strangers on a Train

by Patricia Highsmith
Finished August 17, 2010

"Society's law was lax compared to the law of conscience."

I love Alfred Hitchcock's movie Strangers on a Train. It's suspenseful and has that crazy out-of-control merry-go-round scene at the end. Patricia Highsmith's book is the source of Hitchcock's film, of course. But it's a different experience altogether.

To me, there was no suspense. It could have been that having seen the movie, I wasn't surprised by much in the book, even though there were many plot differences. I think, instead, it was that the book was about the psychology of the two "strangers." It's about the psychology of guilt and about man's capacity for evil.

Charles Bruno (Bruno Anthony in the film) is the psychopath - the one who comes up with the double-murder scheme. He kills Guy Haines' awful wife in exchange for Guy killing his overbearing father. The perfect murder, argues Bruno, because neither has a motive nor any connection to his victim.

But Bruno is such a nutcase and so infatuated with Haines that he cannot leave him alone. He makes connection after connection which leaves a fairly easy trail for the detective. While Highsmith doesn't explicity reveal Charles Bruno as a homosexual, he seems to be unusually fond of Guy. It's mentioned on more than one occasion by other characters that Bruno, "hates women." The only women that find favor with Bruno are his mother and Guy's new wife Anne. He likes Anne because she belongs to Guy.

"'...I like you Guy! I really do!' The wistful face pled with Guy to say he liked him, too. The lonliness in those tiny, tortured eyes!"

It's been a while since I've seen Hitchock's Strangers on a Train, but I remember Bruno as being rather charming and slick. The book's Bruno is an alcoholic lout. He's annoying and thrusts himself into Guy's life even after the deal is done.

The most horrifying part of the story is the thought that a stalker like Charles Bruno could so easily ruin one's life. Highsmith's story consisted more of Guy's and Bruno's thoughts than a straight narrative. While this created a very fitting uneasy feeling for the reader, it also made the book a little difficult to read.
I liked the book a lot, but not as much as the movie. However, they are two different things. Both are pretty great.

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