Friday’s Wall Street Journal included Leonard Cassuto’s essay “Bound for Perdition: Highsmith’s ‘Strangers on a Train’ is Fueled by Anxiety.” In the piece Cassuto describes how Highsmith tapped into Cold War anxiety to create such a compelling novel. As in his recently published book Hard-Boiled Sentimentality: The Secret History of American Crime Stories, Cassuto focuses on the question of sympathy—not an emotion one tends to think about when talking about the hard-boiled crime story. Cassuto writes
Highsmith perverts the workings of sympathy in her suspense stories. Sympathy means imagining oneself in another’s place, but Highsmith makes it difficult for the reader to sympathize with the characters, or for the characters to sympathize with each other. Bruno feels connected to one person only by murdering another, and Guy’s descent offers no relief for a reader looking for someone to root for.
In Hard-Boiled Sentimentality, Cassuto has a lengthy discussion of Highsmith, whom he considers “the quintessential fifties crime writer.” For more on the book, you can also read excerpts or read Leonard Cassuto’s post on the CUP blog “Rooting for Serial Killers: The Strange Case of Dexter.”