UPDATE: I messed up! This discussion is supposed to be next week. But I’m not going to pull the post, you can read it now to have things to think about as you read the book. And I will repost it next week.
Oh boy oh boy oh boy! First, a brief summary to make sure we are all caught up (it’s a mystery, so if you haven’t read it, and want to avoid twists, don’t read on):
It’s a novel written from 3 perspectives, first the fussy flourid columnist and best friend of the heroine, Waldo Lydecker. Then it shifts to the practical and dry witted detective investigating the case, Mark McPherson. And finally to Laura herself, emotional and open and honest.
It’s one of the all time great plot twists, it starts with Mark investigating Laura’s death and befriending Waldo. He slowly comes to like Laura based on what he learns of her from the investigation, reading her date book, admiring her taste in her apartment, hearing about her from friends, and so on. And then, TWIST. LAURA IS ALIVE!!!! It’s a case of a mistaken identity, she had lent the apartment to someone else and left town after all, she missed the whole confusing thing. Now that she is alive, Mark takes over the narration and tries to handle his ever growing love for Laura, with her new position as either a woman in danger of being killed (again), or a suspect in the murder. Mark finds more and more evidence that Laura may have been part of the murder, learning the actual victim was having an affair with her fiance Shelby. He also struggles with Laura’s loyalty to Shelby, and Shelby’s ultimate betrayal of her. It finally comes to a head when he and Waldo fight over Laura, and Mark spontaneously kisses her. Waldo runs out, Mark follows him, and Laura is left behind to write her own version of the past few days. Which ends as Waldo arrives back at her apartment to try to kill her (again) only to be stopped by Mark who returns to write the ending.
Okay, I’m gonna start with the thing I find most interesting! Laura’s section. Waldo and Mark move forward chronologically and factually, it’s fun getting their personality through their writing, but ultimately it is also a murder mystery, giving us clues and details and things of the story. But Laura’s section, there are few new “facts” to be discovered there. Everything has already been learned, already happened, she’s just sitting on her bed in her slip writing out her emotions and things she remembers. We take the first two thirds, seeing Laura through the two men closest to her, and then flip it, and suddenly she is looking out at them, at everything that happened in their section. Plus we get the casually brilliant reveal of her mother who trained her to “never give yourself to a man”, the key to all the romantic back and forth and friendships and generosity but fear of commitment that has tracked through everything in her life without us understanding.
Did that work for you? Did the Laura in the last section feel like the one we had met in the other two sections?
Sticking with section questions, which section did you find most enjoyable to read?
Every time I read this, I find Mark’s section a breath of fresh air after Waldo, and Laura’s section just immediately absorbing and emotional. So I guess Marks is the funnest to read, because Waldo gets tiresome FAST, but Laura’s is the one I lose myself in the most.
Do you think Waldo, Mark, or Laura had the clearest vision of the characters around them?
I think Mark had the clearest vision. Waldo saw everything through the lens of his own emotions. He thought of Laura as a perfect innocent protégée, Shelby as the dim false hero, and Mark as a sweet little boy he could play with. Laura sees everyone based on her love for them, but also sees them clearly. It’s not that she is blind to their faults, it’s that she forgives their faults. And she sees herself VERY clearly, possibly because she is in a moment of high emotion. But Mark just looks at everyone as problems to solve. And he doubts himself the most, that’s the key, he sees his emotions affecting his judgement and tries to correct for it.
Tricky question, did you like Mark?
I saw the movie first, and was already in love with Dana Andrews anyway, so I loved book-Mark from the first time I read it. But on this re-read, I really noticed the casual misogyny in his language. As the book goes on though, the interesting thing is how that misogyny is not reflected in his actions. He really cares for Diane Redfern, the ultimate victim, perhaps more than anyone else in the book. He isn’t falling in love with her or anything, he just sees her as a human person. And he talks about only women in his family, did you notice that? His grandmother, his sister. His language still fell harshly on my ear in this read, I think Caspary was reaching for a “hard-boiled” hero and went slightly too far, but his actions are just right, and that’s where the truth of the character lies.
Now, worst man! Waldo or Shelby? (setting aside the murder)
I’m going with Waldo! Shelby was a cheater, and a taker, and horribly manipulative in keeping Laura with him out of guilt and keeping Diane with him out of love. Laura’s life was taken up by him in so many ways. And on some level, he knew he was doing it, while Shelby was unconsciously uncaringly cruel.
Moving on, most timeless part of the book?
I’m going, again, for the Laura-Waldo relationship! That sort of controlling male-female dynamic is, unfortunately, still around. Only now it has names, like “gaslighting” and “coercive control” and “emotional abuse”. It’s not the typical man who hits his wife story at all, they aren’t even romantic partners, but it is a tragically timeless story of someone who just cannot let someone go. And the story of someone who can sense there is something wrong but can’t see straight how to escape. Right down to rushing into an ill-advised marriage just because it seems like an escape.
Oh, and LEAST timeless part of the book?
The way it has to dance around Laura’s sexual history. If you read the end notes, you read about how Caspary was FURIOUS at the film version for turning her heroine into this fragile young pretty thing. Reading the book version, I got that she was supposed to be interesting looking but not pretty. And that she was feeling old and unsuccessful for not being married yet as other women around her were prettier and younger. But at the same time, she has had multiple romantic affairs, all of which ended up going nowhere, leaving her feeling MORE unsuccessful. Or maybe that is timeless too? I hope not! I hope now working women can have relationships without hiding them unless they are “proper” and don’t feel so tied to their romantic life and appearance for their success.
Bonus question: Film or novel, which do you like better?
I like the novel better but it is REALLY close. I understand Caspary’s concerns about the film, but the casting was just so perfect, and I think I liked Dana Andrews better than the book Mark.
Second bonus question, do you feel the need for a final romantic conclusion?
I always do! Every time I watch the movie or read the book. They have the Love Triumphant kiss, but then poor Laura is left feeling dirty and unwanted and we never get past that point. Just something like Mark casually mentioning in his final section that Laura was now his wife would have resolved it for me. But no!