In Patricia Highsmith's debut novel, we encounter Guy Haines and Charles Anthony Bruno, passengers on the same train. But while Guy is a successful architect in the midst of a divorce, Bruno turns out to be a sadistic psychopath who manipulates Guy into swapping murders with him. As Bruno carries out his twisted plan, Guy is trapped in Highsmith's perilous world - where, under the right circumstances, anybody is capable of murder.
The inspiration for Alfred Hitchcock's classic 1951 film, Strangers on a Train launched Highsmith on a prolific career of noir fiction and proved her mastery of depicting the unsettling forces that tremble beneath the surface of everyday contemporary life.
©2015 Patricia Highsmith (P)2015 Blackstone Audio, Inc.
I can find a book to love in any genre -- a beautifully written classic, an interesting mystery or sci-fi, a trashy romance. Bring it!
STORY (suspense) - The story takes place probably in the 1950's, partially in Texas and partially in more northern states. Guy is a successful businessman, and Bruno is a drunken loser. They meet on a train, begin conversing, and eventually address the people they each hate most in their lives. Bruno despises his father, and Guy hates his soon-to-be ex-wife. Bruno, being mentally twisted, suggests they kill each other's undesirable family member. At first Guy protests but, through a series of events, eventually is convinced they should attempt to execute Bruno's plan. I'll stop there so as not to give anything away.
The story isn't boring, but it's not exciting either. It just kind of moves along with a few surprises here and there. Bruno stays true to his personality throughout the story, but Guy progressively embraces his opposite darker personality. He also changes his feelings for Bruno, who he dislikes in the beginning of the story but later thinks of as almost a brother. There is sort of a hidden meaning to the story, which is that absolutely anyone is capable of murder given the right circumstances. Yikes.
PERFORMANCE - Bronson Pinchot (the actor) reads this book. Usually I really enjoy his performances, but not this time. In particular, Bruno sounded like a whiney spoiled child as opposed to a drunken psychopath.
OVERALL - There's no sex or cursing and only a tiny bit of mild violence. Men and women could both equally enjoy this story but, as I said, I don't necessarily recommend it. It's just okay.
I rarely like books where things are going wrong for the protagonist the whole story and this was no exception. The performance was very good, but I couldn't wait for the story to end.
I absolutely loved this story. The characters were so very well written and thought out. The story moved along at a perfect pace. Bronson Pinchot gave an exceptional performance! His voicing of the characters was so wonderful that I feel like I know these people. I highly recommend this audiobook, outstanding.
I know - this is a noir classic and must be at least four stars. But some books would make really great novellas or short stories and for me this is exhibit 1
First, a disclaimer I gave this book 5 stars because reviews on amazon have become super inaccurate. If it has anything less than 4 stars... you kind of assume it is awful - right? Therefore I gave this book 5 stars because I do not want to drive people away based on the star rating.
Now let's get down to the review - shall we kids?
Do I have buyer's remorse?
I purchased this book during one of audibles daily specials. So I got it for about the price of a cup of coffee at starbucks. I then listened to it during my commutes to and from work over three or four days. I enjoyed it. No remorse!
How was the reader?
I mostly listen to history books (Roman History - obviously. Doesn't everyone? Obvs) in which the readers speak in only one voice, occasionally adopting a different tone when quoting ancient texts. As a result, I sometimes get annoyed by readers who adopt different "voices" for different characters. While I thought the reader did a great job with Guy and Anne, I found his voice for Bruno annoying. That being said, Bruno is kind of annoying so... maybe this is just a testament to the reader?
How was the story?
You know when you like a girl and you show up to a dinner party hoping to impress her... and then the host introduces his friend from out of town? You know, the friend who likes old movies, read every book, and inexplicably has a shared interest with your girl in some obscure hobby? Yeah that's me. Like the guy most one uppers call a dick.
I have seen the movie STRANGERS ON A TRAIN (see? Even writing a title like a dick who works in the industry). The movie is a classic. I love it. You probably love it. And someday we, together, will hate the inevitable remake from hollywood before it even hits theaters.
Therefore reading a book that inspired a classic was a strange experience. I do not regret listening to the book BUT I will say I still prefer the movie. The book kind of drags. In addition, being inside the heads of these characters can be a little exhausting.
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The story was interesting, yet it didn’t hold my attention; too much “setting the scene” and not enough “getting to the point”.
During the slow passages, my mind tended to wander away and when I eventually floated back to the story I was aware that missed something important! So irritating because the plot is a good one!
I’d like to see the movie now; I’m curious to know what Hitchcock did with it!
If the term doesn’t already exist, I want to coin this a ‘hardboiled novel of manners’. There’s a genteel novel-of-manners feel to it as we get a lot of attention on the niceties of how properly to entertain someone, how architecture or fashion functions as social statement, and how people generally express themselves through subtle public gestures.
Highsmith’s central insight seems to be that civilization (or what she has her characters call “society” when it comes to the fore in the final pages) is a thin veneer on top of a species with the capacity to be real animals. Bruno says as much in the opening scene when he declares that every man is capable of murder, and that’s borne out. Everyone (except the saintly Anne) is indeed capable of murder. We need laws to keep us from going wild, but it isn’t clear society truly wants that. Most of the characters seem happy to tolerate murder as long as it doesn’t affect them. It just seems understood that people do bad things.
Highsmith uses that hardboiled axiom to explore the famous premise of the novel: two men meet on a train and toy with the idea of having each commit a murder on the other’s behalf. Without motives, each murderer would go unsuspected, yet each would accomplish his goal.
In Hitchcock’s hands, that story became a chance for him to explore his own favored notion of a protagonist who, somehow a little guilty or compromised (whether for listening to a murderous stranger on a train or simply peeping into a neighbor’s window) finds himself a fundamentally innocent man bound up with truly despicable people. Highsmith’s vision is much darker. [SPOILER] Most tellingly, Guy actually goes on to commit the murder that Bruno wants from him. Hitchcock gives his protagonist an out; he eventually pulls himself back from the “deal” he’s entered into. Highsmith’s protagonist gets broken down, however. Under the pressure of Bruno’s obsession, he proceeds to kill Bruno’s father. Later, he begins to echo many of the more Bruno’s more despicable quirks. At the end he determines that anyone can be broken down, that we’re all so fundamentally vicious that the right pressure can turn us all into characters.
There’s a crispness throughout most of this, but I think it falls a bit short in some of its psychological profiling. In the end, I simply don’t find Guy’s breakdown authentic. Compromised as he might be, I don’t accept why he doesn’t go to the police, especially when he has such compelling evidence of Bruno’s guilt. Highsmith writes compellingly, but I think this falls a bit short of the even darker, more efficient Talented Mr. Ripley.
As a final thought, I wondered whether this might in some way be a comment on the then only 6-7 years old Fountainhead. We have here a protagonist who realizes, eventually, that individuals stand apart from a rule-bound society. He feels called to do great things, and he concludes that simple things, like other people’s lives, shouldn’t hold him back.
I have not read The Fountainhead, but is there’s anything to my hunch, this is not a flattering comment. The novel ultimately does not endorse such a vision of the power of the great ego. Rather, we come to find Guy a somewhat small man, a man whose being broken down by another has undermined the real gifts he had. In fact, as I read it, this undermines Ayn Rand altogether. Skeptical as this is of what holds society together, it laments our alone-ness rather than celebrates it.
Highsmith remains the first acknowledged female star of the hardboiled tradition. If all you know of this one is the film, you’re in for a surprise.
Like a 20th century retelling of Crime and Punishment, I never felt so sorry for a murderer.
I loved the fact that it seemed so far out, but yet was a situation ANY ONE of us could actually find ourselves in. Clever writibg, excellent irony, and an awesome, unexpected ending. You find yourself not really sure who to root for! Interesting from the first page! Not too many of those to me, and I've read A LOT in 49 years!
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