Strangers When We Meet

Evan Hunter is best known to crime fiction readers as Ed McBain. Hunter, an early pseudonym, became his legal name although it wasn’t his birth name. Strangers When We Meet was a popular 1958 novel, two years later turned into a hit movie starring Kim Novak and Kirk Douglas. It’s not exactly a crime novel except for the adultery. Rather, it’s a novel about the meaning of life and what exactly is the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.

The centerpiece of the novel is, of course, the torrid elicit affair between Larry and Maggie. They both married young, but now after all these years find that the fresh coat of paint has dulled and it’s not bright and shiny and new. On the one hand, it’s indictment of life in all the Levittowns with the cookie cutter houses, taking the kids to school, and waving at your neighbors. On the other hand, Larry gets advice from unlikely sources that he’s throwing away everything and someone warned him that the blonde bombshell Maggie is not the pot of gold. Larry also has a story with his career as an architect and there’s a bit of Howard Roark in him as he storms over changes in his designs. Maggie herself has her own issues. She feels safe with her husband Don, but not filled with excitement. In some ways, still strangers. No one really knows her inside. Her looks make all the other housewives jealous and are misinterpreted by the men as a come-on.

A foil for them and their perilous affair is the happy go lucky life of the rich bestselling writer-client who wants a mansion built to his expectations and who entertains a different woman every weekend. But, he’s terrified of what the critics will say about his next book and he ultimately longs to settle down.

On the surface, this novel sounds like a complicated soap opera, but Hunter makes it into something a bit deeper and more profound.

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