The Red Car

the-red-carI enjoyed Marcy Dermansky’s novel Bad Mariewith its deliciously bad main character. So I was excited to read her new book, which also promised a rebellious lady lead. But Leah is more aimless than outright bad, and although a lot of her aimless was easy to relate to, it’s not very interesting to read.

Leah is a writer living in New York with a husband she met in grad school. Her life isn’t terrible, but she hasn’t achieved the kinds of things she’d dreamed of—or that others dreamed of for her. One of her main cheerleaders was her former boss, Judy. Judy took Leah under her wing when Leah was working an office job in California, and it was Judy’s encouragement that got Leah to finally go to graduate school. Now, Judy is dead, and she has left Leah her red sports car, which Leah always hated, and Leah has to go out to California for the funeral and to get the car.

Leah’s listlessness is easy to understand and not all that unusual. She hasn’t achieved what she hoped, but her life isn’t bad. So there’s disappointment but also a sort of comfortableness that’s hard to jostle out of. And a sudden death of a mentor might be just the thing to wake a person up. But I didn’t find Leah’s situation entirely believable or the depiction of it particularly insightful or interesting.

For one thing, I wished that there had been more ambiguity in the rendering of Leah’s marriage. She married her husband, Hans, so he could get a green card, and the marriage seems about like the rest of Leah’s life—basically OK but not great. As Leah prepares to leave for California, it’s evident that Hans is needy and possessive. All of this provides a good dilemma. But then Hans is violent, and the scale tips. Leah makes excuses, which is realistic enough, but as a reader, I was now pushed in a particular direction. Instead of wondering if Hans’s possessiveness could become destructive, I knew. It all became less interesting.

There were also these weird supernatural moments that I couldn’t decide how we were meant to read. Leah hears Judy’s voice during much of her time in California, urging her in one direction or another. And when Leah picks up Judy’s car, she becomes convinced that the car is trying to kill her. What? It didn’t help that I never found Leah and Judy’s friendship convincing.

In fact, even though I could understand the central dilemma of the book, I didn’t find much of the actual story convincing. I think the book is trying to get at some important ideas about how we make decisions and live our lives, and which actions actually matter in the long run, but the story never really pulled me in. I finished it because it was short, not because I wanted to know what happened.

I received an egalley of this book for review consideration via Netgalley.

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4 Responses to The Red Car

  1. You made a good point in here that I never realized while I was reading it – but which I totally agree with – the underlying relationship (Leah and Judy) isn’t very convincing. I think I liked this more than you did, but it had its problems.

    • Teresa says:

      I kept expecting there to be some twist around their relationship that explained the bond between them. I think that kept me from enjoying the other aspects of the book.

  2. I ended up really liking this book – maybe it helped that it was my first Dermansky novel and I had nothing took compare it to. Looking back I see your point about the friendship being unconvincing, not sure why it didn’t bother me on the first read.

    Hans’ violence does tip things – for me the question went from “is this a bad marriage” to “will Leah recognize this is a bad marriage and have the strength to end it”. Maybe that helped me get pulled along by the story.

    • Teresa says:

      I think with Hans, I found the question of whether it was a good marriage more interesting that the question of whether she would leave. Once the question was gone, I lost some of my initial interest in the story.

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