I enjoyed Marcy Dermansky’s novel Bad Marie, with 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.