My goal is to eventually make my way through all of these must-read titles. These books have been around for so long and read by so many that another generic review from your average reader seems unnecessary. Instead, I thought it would be fun to take a look at what some of the experts have to say about the stories that paved the way for their own success… and how their perspective compares to my own reading experience. Today, I’m looking at Vera Caspary’s Laura.
Laura Hunt was the ideal modern woman: beautiful, elegant, highly ambitious, and utterly mysterious. No man could resist her charms — not even the hard-boiled NYPD detective sent to find out who turned her into a faceless corpse. As this tough cop probes the mystery of Laura’s death, he becomes obsessed with her strange power. Soon he realizes he’s been seduced by a dead woman…
M.J. Rose claims that Laura is primarily a novel about obsession, that “it mesmerizes the reader, just as Detective McPherson is mesmerized by Laura…” Unfortunately, while I’ll agree that all of the characters are, in one way or another, obsessed with Laura the woman, I didn’t feel the same way about Laura the novel.
I think this is a classic that suffers from having been so influential. It may have been new and interesting at the time, but I felt as though I’d already heard it all before (despite not actually being familiar with the story). About halfway in, I guessed how it would end. I was hoping I’d be proven wrong, that something would happen to surprise me, but it didn’t.
The other issue is that by today’s standards, Laura just doesn’t seem that extraordinary. “Reading this novel today, we forget how many advances Caspary brought to the genre. First, her feminist themes were far ahead of her time.… Laura is an astonishing blend of a murder investigation and a woman’s quest for love and success.”
That’s all well and good. But even seeing her through the eyes of the various men – and their rotating viewpoints were another part of the story that just didn’t quite work for me – it’s hard to understand why they’re so drawn to her; it just doesn’t feel authentic. Again, I don’t know that this is so much a weakness in the story itself as it is just not standing the test of time.
In the end, Laura was only okay for me. What it comes down to is that I wanted to be captivated, I felt like I should be captivated… but I wasn’t. Well, we can’t love them all.
Sixteen down, eighty-four to go…
Next month I’ll be reading Lee Child’s Killing Floor.