I’ve only ever read two novels by Vera Caspary, Laura and Bedelia. My pleasure re-reading the former inspired me to write up a review of the author for this site. Caspary’s choosing to write Laura from the perspective of four main characters is a touch that establishes the haunting doubts and fears of never really knowing not only others but ourselves. Waldo Lydecker, the first narrator, debonair and acerbic, sets us on a mode of sophisticated cynicism about love and human-nature, charming us into becoming co-conspirators, even reveling, in his acid perspective on those around him. Then, the switch to Detective MacPherson steadily challenges Lydecker’s smug, smooth, and superior assessments of others and himself. Even our expectations of the murder victim are steadily undermined, confused, challenged as narrative point of view shifts. We come to question ourselves as much as the reliability of the narrators.
Laura’s own words give us a woman of strength but human flaws, not a misogynist’s condemnation of those imperfections. We are fascinated by a woman who slowly becomes aware of exactly who the people are around her, dragging her down and feeding her illusions – as well as by her own growth as she recognizes the depth and feeling missing from her life. All this is done while Caspary deftly refuses not to clear Laura of the possibility of guilt while the story unfolds from Laura’s own perspective.
Caspary’s prose style is deft, full yet compact, in recreating the physical noir of 1940s New York City, as well as the noir geography of contemporary society: deception, selfishness, delusion, guilt, and corruption. This novel is a definite must if you want the full-on noir experience in print!
The film version captures much of the novel’s ambience, as Gene Tierney’s quiet strength combines with the mystery behind her smile and her eyes to capture the contradiction of Laura’s elusiveness and genuineness. Though Dana Andrews and Clifton Webb physically differ from their literary incarnations, Webb strikingly so, they capture the souls of their characters perfectly. In Webb’s case, his spare, brittle form captures the acerbic, cynical nature of Lydecker more effectively than the rotund, almost babylike description in the book.
I am a bit troubled that the N-bomb gets dropped in this book, though the context isn’t exactly approving.
I also recommend Bedelia for a real femme fatale matching wits with her romantic victim. “Wicked Lady” Margaret Lockwood takes on the role in a British film version from 1946; however, the screen role waters down the strength and intellect making Bedelia such a clever and ominous opponent. Click here for the film.
Images, no copyright infringement intended. All used for informational and instructional purposes:
Gene Tierney Laura portrait unknown source
New York cityscape, public domain: https://www.publicdomainpictures.net/en/view-image.php?image=204005&picture=new-york-night-skyline
Cover of Bedelia: from the 1947 Popular Library edition of Bedelia, reprinted byThe Feminist Press