Friday, September 6, 2013

Strangers on a Train

Patricia Highsmith
Strangers on a Train

Harper & Brothers, 1950

Two strangers travel on the same train. One, Guy Haines, an architect, is in a hurry to meet his wife to finally divorce her. Another, Charles Bruno, is spoiled mama's boy, whose father does not give him enough money. Bruno intrudes himself in the company of Guy and begins a conversation. Guy suddenly finds that disbosom to a stranger is easier than to someone close, and tells Bruno about his life’s hardships. Bruno sympathizes and offers Guy to do each other a favor: Bruno will kill Guy's wife and Guy will kill the Charles’s father. Getting off the train, Guy thinks he will never see the madman with crazy ideas. Guy is wrong.

Strangers on a Train is called modern (although the novel is already more than 60 years old) remix of Crime and Punishment by Dostoevsky. Comparison is generally correct: Highsmith in her debut with pleasure climbs into her characters’ heads and there scratch them, forcing the characters to express themselves not at their best. Porfiry Petrovich here is replaced by the private detective, who is sniffing around, and the man's ability to unearth evidence can not be questioned, although Highsmith doesn’t quite convince us the detective could get to the truth.

Already in Strangers on a Train Highsmith proved to be a talented creator of sympathetic sociopaths, pleasant and inconspicuous, pointing to that one of the characters is given the name Guy - a guy.

Guy stands there in another unusual role - a real imaginary friend. Guy real and imagined by Guy Bruno are two different people. And it is Bruno, who cannot determine where the real and the imaginary:

«He felt fine. The man kept insisting he have another drink, and Bruno had three fast. He noticed a streak on his hand as he lifted the glass, got out his handkerchief, and calmly wiped between his thumb and forefinger. It was a smear of Miriam's orangey lipstick. He could hardly see it in the bar's light. He thanked the man with the rye, and strolled out into the darkness, walking along the right side of the road, looking for a taxi. He had no desire to look back at the lighted park. He wasn't even thinking about it, he told himself. A streetcar passed, and he ran for it. He enjoyed its bright interior, and read all the placards. A wriggly little boy sat across the aisle, and Bruno began chatting with him. The thought of calling Guy and seeing him kept crossing his mind, but of course Guy wasn't here. He wanted some kind of celebration. He might call Guy's mother again, for the hell of it, but on second thought, it didn't seem wise. It was the one lousy note in the evening, the fact he couldn't see Guy, or even talk or write to him for a long while. Guy would be in for some questioning, of course. But he was free! It was done, done, done! In a burst of well-being, he ruffled the little boy's hair.»

Those compartments are dangerous thing.


  1. I find it interesting that Hitchcock shied away from one of the most brutal plot elements in the book. In fact, even today when Highsmith is filmed, there's always a pullback from the harshest parts of the storylines. Pretty cool for a woman writing in the '50s -- she still shocks filmmakers, apparently.

    1. I haven't seen the film, but recently stumbled upon Chandler's letter to Hitchcock concerning the screenplay of Strangers on a Train:

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