Fiction: “Strangers on a Train” by Patricia Highsmith

Y’all like disjointed reviews, right?  Because the trend of Writing Reviews While At Work Because REASONS doesn’t look like it’s going to go away any time soon.

If the theme song isn't stuck in your head, I don't know what you're even doing.

Erica and I have been very busy in our respective lives, but we were able to get together last week on Twitter to discuss Strangers on a Train by Patricia Highsmith.  She has admitted that she’s seen the movie numerous times; I know I’ve seen it at least once, maybe twice; but if I’m going to watch a Hitchcock, I usually wait and find Rebecca or North by Northwest on TCM.  That’s not to say I wouldn’t rewatch Strangers on a Train if it came up again – I remember liking the movie.  I just really really really like Rebecca, and I may have made a couple of characters in a novel I’m writing make a bet about from whose facial appendage Cary Grant dangled in North by Northwest, so I guess you could say I’ve watched it a few times for research?

ANYWAY, I promise – the next time Strangers on a Train shows up on TCM, I’ll tape it (if Jeremy the TiVo isn’t acting up again*).

Strangers on a Train

[*Like last night, when, before I went to my parents’s house for Mother’s Day, I had a whole 78%, which is PLENTY of room to record Bob’s Burgers, Cosmos, Mad Men, and the two-hour season finale of Once Upon a Time, which I have been waiting for like I assume Rob Ford waits for his weekly delivery of crack.  HOOK AND EMMA GO BACK IN TIME, EVERYONE!  And the best part about that?  TIME TRAVEL IS LIKE IN BACK TO THE FUTURE.  I freak out when media treats time travel like it’s some destiny and not someone’s density and that if someone goes back in time and screws up his parents’s first meeting, he won’t start to disappear in the middle of the guitar solo to “Johnny B. Goode.”  And apparently I have a lot of issues to work out with the finale to Once Upon a Time, which most certainly does not belong in my review of Strangers on a Train, so I’ll get back to my original train of thought that halfway through the two-hour finale, Jeremy the TiVo had apparently gotten up to 100% and then it stopped recording, and also deleted the hour it had already recorded, and what the FUCK I totally freaked out because when the screen went black Hook and Emma hadn’t returned to Storybrooke and —

— okay, seriously — calm down, Alaina; take the feels to tumblr, where they belong.]

So, Strangers on a Train!  Right!  That thing I’m supposed to be talking about!

“Strangers on a Train” is now a trope that is hopefully familiar to everyone: Person A has a person he wants to get rid of; Person B has a person he wants to get rid of.  People A and B meet on a train (or a subway, or a ferry, or some other public area – possibly a coffee shop) and end up having a conversation that eventually steers itself towards the people that they want to get rid of.  Then it’s all, “Hey …. I’ve got a cah-RAY-zee idea!”  Before you know it, Person A has to kill Person B’s hated person and vice versa.  It’s the perfect crime!  No one will ever suspect!

… yeah.  You know how that’s supposed to work?  Clearly Charles Augustus Bruno, the instigator of the plot in the novel, didn’t think it through.

Because SERIOUSLY.  Bruno, as he’s called, meets Guy on … well; you know.  They’re traveling to Texas, where Bruno’s going to continue on to Santa Fe, and Guy is going to try and get a divorce from his wife who is currently pregnant with another man’s baby.  Bruno is obsessed with the idea of committing the perfect murder; Guy just wants to read his Plato and go back to his state car, but he has to admit that Bruno has an irresistible charm that is both charming and disgusting.  They each discuss their People: for Guy it’s Miriam, his soon-to-be ex-wife; for Bruno, it’s his father.  Bruno is the one who brings up the idea of killing each other’s darlings (as it were), but Guy dismisses it out of hand, and the next day, they go their separate ways.

Except after the weekend, Bruno goes to Guy’s hometown and kills Miriam (although — for those who might be worried about it — it is revealed prior to her murder that one of two things happened: 1) either she was lying about the other man’s baby [which is my assumption], or 2) she had a miscarriage.  Either way, Bruno did not kill a pregnant woman).

Guy learns about her murder, but no suspect is brought forth.  He assumes Bruno did it, but he forces himself to believe otherwise.  Until Bruno starts contacting him and pressuring him to follow through on his end of the bargain, even though no such bargain was ever made.

This is usually the place where I clam up regarding spoilers, but unfortunately, a big part of my discussion hinges around Guy’s choices.  So sorry guys, but — wait, y’know?  This book was published in 1950, almost seventy years ago.  Hell, it’s almost in the public domain.  So you know what?  The statute of limitations for spoilers has passed.  I’m gonna talk about it, and if you don’t like it, read the goddamned book.

Also: Rosebud was the sled, it’s Gwyneth Paltrow’s head in the box, the Titanic sinks, and Bruce Willis was dead all along.  You’re welcome.

So in the book, Guy feels compelled to go through with murdering Bruno’s father.  He feels that if he were to come forward and turn Bruno in for Miriam’s murder, Guy would be accused of being a conspirator, or hiring Bruno to kill her – either way he’d be implicated, and all he wants is a nice quite life with his new wife, Anne.  He wants to be an architect and go to work and design buildings, and come home to a dinner that Anne made for him in-between designing clothes, and to take weekend sails off of Long Island and essentially be Thurston Howell III without the dry sense of humor.

But when Bruno finds him in New York, and starts popping up on his way to work, and meets him for coffee, and starts leaving hints about how to sneak into Bruno’s house to kill his father, Guy starts to feel pressured.  Even though he now has proof that Bruno murdered Miriam, he doesn’t dare risk being implicated in the crime.  He believes that if he ignores Bruno, maybe Bruno will leave him alone.

But then Bruno sends an anonymous letter to Anne, letting her know that Guy knows more about Miriam’s murder than he’s letting on.  And finally, Guy feels that he no longer has an option, so he goes through with murdering Bruno’s father (and does a crap job of it, but that’s another tale for another day).

And on this point, Erica and I disagreed:

True, Guy could have gotten out of it, but what would the cost have been?  He would have been implicated in Miriam’s murder, and even if he wasn’t found guilty of collusion, his reputation would have been tarnished.  He would have lost Anne, his job, and his lifestyle; and I truly believe that Guy weighed the risks of murdering Bruno’s father versus informing on Bruno, and he believed the lesser risk would come from committing murder.

And that should have been the end of it, right?  Both gentleman have killed the other’s nemesis, and they both go their separate ways and continue into the lifestyles they have so created.  Right?  WRONG.

Oh, I already posted the tweet!  So the one where I said “The major flaw being himself”?  Yeah.  See, in doing all this murdering and crap, Bruno became infatuated with Guy: with Guy as a person, and with Guy as a representative of (I don’t know why I keep using this word, but it seems to fit) a lifestyle.  Once his father has departed this mortal coil, Bruno can’t resist meeting up with Guy to talk about it.  He hopes that now he has a friend.  A murder friend!  (But not Murder Husbands, because a certain show of my heart [and stomach, and other digestive/digestible organs] have locked that down like crazy.  Now renewed for a third season!)

And Bruno’s budding friendship (courtship?) complicates things for the both of them.  Because there’s a private detective on the trail, and he learns of Bruno’s new friend.  And then he digs deeper, and learns that they met on a train, conveniently around the time that Guy’s ex-wife was murdered.  And this detective ain’t no slouch – he easily puts two and two together and gets four, not five.

There’s more I could say about this book – I could go into the relationship between Guy and Bruno and their wives and/or mothers, and I’d love to discuss more about Guy’s name and how bland it is yet also acts as a gateway for the reader – you could be that Guy, which shows how we are all two steps away from murdering people.  But right now, I’ve written 1500 words in this thing over four days at work, and I need to be done with it now.  So – I’m done with the review now.

Grade for Strangers on a Train: 3.5 stars

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