Becky’s Two Hundred and Tenth Book Review: “Strangers on a Train” by Patricia Highsmith

“Strangers on a Train” is the second book by Patricia Highsmith that I have ever read. The first book was on the Wall Street Journal Book Club list about a year ago. When I read “Deep Water” I instantly became a fan of the psychological thrillers that Highsmith is known for in her novels and quickly added all her books to my wishlist on amazon. I knew the basic premise going into the novel, but that didn’t take away from my enjoyment of the book.

There were two important characters in “Strangers on a Train”, Guy Haines the protagonist and Charles Anthony Bruno the antagonist. Guy and Bruno meet on a train and after extracting details from Guy about his unfaithful wife, Bruno leads a discussion on exchanging murders. Bruno wants his father dead and tries to convince Guy that it would be the perfect murder, Bruno could kill Guy’s wife and Guy could kill his father. Guy doesn’t take him seriously, which is his second mistake after unwillingly befriending Bruno in the first place. He then finds himself in a psychological game of torture with Bruno. Every time he tries to swat away the fly, Bruno comes back more determined than ever before. I enjoyed their back and forth and the broad spectrum of their personalities. Guy possesses a calm demeanor whereas Bruno is wild and unpredictable. You feel bad for Guy, but at the same time, you almost want to cheer for Bruno. I really enjoyed how different Highsmith made these characters seem and how similar they really end up being. The only drawback I found in “Strangers on a Train” was that there were some parts that got a little boring.

This was one of my favorite passages: “He remembered her telling him that all men were equally good, because all men had souls and the soul was entirely good. Evil, she said, always came from externals… But love and hate, he thought now, good and evil, lived side by side in the human heart, and not merely in different proportions in one man and the next, but all good and all evil. One had merely to look for a little of either to find it all, one had merely to scratch the surface. All things had opposites close by, every decision a reason against it, every animal an animal that destroys it, the male the female, the positive the negative. The splitting of the atom was the only true destruction, the breaking of the universal law of oneness. Nothing could be without its opposite that was bound up with it. Could space exist in a building without objects that stopped it? Could energy exist without matter, or matter without energy? Matter and energy, the inert and the active, once considered opposites, were now known to be one.” (Strangers on a Train, pg 180). I wanted to include it so that you could experience her writing firsthand.

Would I recommend this book? Yes, but not to everyone. There are times when Patricia Highsmith’s writing gets to be a bit tedious, and if you’re simply looking for a light read that you can pick up whenever, this might not be the book for you. That aside, I really enjoy Patricia Highsmith and I am glad that there are more books out there that she has written that I have not read yet.

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