THE RED CAR takes us on a wild ride through a young woman’s life

the-red-car

The Red Car

By Marcy Dermansky

Liveright/W.W. Norton: Oct. 11, 2016

206 pages, $24.95


The Red Car reads like the title vehicle drives: fast, unpredictable, possibly possessed,  occasionally thrilling, and not quite comfortable.

With her third novel, Marcy Dermansky takes us on a wild ride with thirty-something Leah as she tries to make sense of her life. Like the narrator in Talking Heads’ “Once in a Lifetime,” she is not quite sure how she got to where she is and if it’s even really her life.

Leah’s close first-person narration takes us, in short order, from a tryst with an adoring nerd at Haverford College to clerical job in Facilities Management at UC Berkeley in her mid-20’s and on to her unsatisfying marriage to an Austrian immigrant in Queens ten years later. In short, sharp sentences, Dermansky propels the reader through Leah’s idiosyncratic attitudes and actions. She seems to be living her own life yet strangely removed from its import. Everything is slightly off.

The plot kicks into high gear when she learns that her boss at Berkeley, a single older woman named Judy who had befriended and mentored Leah, has died in a car accident while driving her beloved red sports car – and that she has left the car and some money for Leah. Called back to the Bay Area for Judy’s funeral and to deal with the car, and needing a break from her emotionally manipulative husband, Leah flees her stultifying life in New York City for a “two-week vacation.”

In an episodic narrative that finds Leah trying to sort out her past – and a totally unexpected and disorienting present — in order to determine a possible future, Dermansky leads her protagonist through encounters with a lesbian living in her old San Francisco apartment, a former co-worker she has always found desirable, her old college friend who is now teaching at Stanford, and a mysteriously charming young Japanese hotel clerk in Big Sur, as well as an encounter with the worshipful guy from the prologue.

The Red Car takes us on a memorable drive as Leah attempts to figure out where she went wrong and how she ended up living the life she leads. Is it too late to change direction and change herself? If not, then how does she do that? Who or what is holding her back? Who’s driving this car anyway?

The Red Car is never less than interesting – you want to know what on earth will happen next – and Leah’s voice, with its unvarnished, stream of consciousness self-analysis, is quirky and intriguing . Her experiences and reflections present a host of thought-provoking issues. And the dialogue is razor-sharp, always smart, and often funny.

But The Red Car is also somewhat cool and aloof and not quite emotionally unfulfilling — a bit like Leah. As with many of the characters, I enjoyed spending some time with Leah, but I couldn’t see having a relationship with her; she is too consumed with trying maintain a functioning relationship with herself and the world.

Like the red car she fears, Leah is a fast, unpredictable, and possibly possessed character. In spite of my minor quibbles, this road trip is still worth taking. Just buckle up and hold on.

2013 Survey: It was a very good year

 

Flashes of War  Nothing Gold Can Stay  Kind of Kin  News from SpainBobcat-by-Rebecca-Lee  An Unexpected Guest  you-are-one-of-them_custom-b11e1ab622af31698377d8bd48c0dfc4fc8fa6eb-s6-c30  Hystera cover  Is This Tomorrow  Golem and Jinni

 

2013 was my first year blogging (I started in June) and I’ve really enjoyed it, especially connecting with so many writers and readers (for which Twitter is a godsend). Inspired by my blogger friend Melissa at thefeministtexican.wordpress.com, I decided to use the same categories she did. She credits Jamie at perpetualpageturner.com as the creator/host of this particular survey.

 

1. Best Books You Read in 2013

I don’t have one clear winner in these two categories, because I loved and admired several very different books this year. In the order I read them, they are:

Novels

1. The Light Between Oceans (2012) — M.L. Stedman

2. The Orchardist — Amanda Coplin

3. Kind of Kin — Rilla Askew

4. Sparta — Roxana Robinson

5. The Golem and the Jinni — Helene Wecker

Short Stories

1. The News from Spain: Seven Variations on a Love Story — Joan Wickersham

2. News from Heaven — Jennifer Haigh

3. Nothing Gold Can Stay — Ron Rash

4. Bobcat and Other Stories — Rebecca Lee

5. Flashes of War — Katey Schultz

6. The UnAmericans — Molly Antopol (forthcoming in Feb. 2014)

 

2. Book You Were Excited About and Thought You Were Going to Love More But Didn’t

A Guide to Being Born (Stories) — Ramona Ausubel

A Tale for the Time Being — Ruth Ozeki

 

3. Most Surprising Book of 2013

Dear Life — Alice Munro

My first foray into the world of Munro’s stories,  and it knocked my socks off. I ended up reading half a dozen of her books in the next couple months.

 

4. Book You Recommended to Most People

Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk — Ben Fountain

Nothing Gold Can Stay (Stories) — Ron Rash

 

5. Best Series

I didn’t read any books that are part of a series, but I’ll say Alice Munro’s short stories, which constitute something of a series. I started with the most recent and worked my way backwards.

 

6. Favorite Author You Discovered in 2013

In terms of the number of books I read by this author, the clear winner is Alice Munro (six books). But I discovered so many great writers that I feel I have to mention them by name: Ron Rash, Ben Fountain, Rebecca Lee, Elliott Holt, Anne Korkeakivi, Roxana Robinson, Molly Antopol, Lauren Groff, Elizabeth Graver, Caroline Leavitt, Rilla Askew, Marisa Silver, Helene Wecker, Katey Schultz, and Hannah Kent. And I’m omitting several others.

 

7. Best Book That Was Out of Your Comfort Zone or was a New Genre for You

Tenth of December — George Saunders

I prefer traditional short stories, but writers like Saunders, Aimee Bender, Karen Russell, and Ramona Ausubel are taking the genre in strange new directions, merging science fiction, fantasy, myth, and paranormal genres into serious  and provocative modern stories.

 

8. Most Thrilling, Unputdownable Book in 2013

Three-way tie:

1. The Light Between Oceans — M.L. Stedman

2. The Golem and the Jinni — Helene Wecker

3. Burial Rites — Hannah Kent

 

9. Book You Are Most Likely to Re-read in 2014

Probably one of the terrific story collections I read this year:

Nothing Gold Can Stay — Ron Rash

Bobcat and Other Stories — Rebecca Lee

News from Heaven — Jennifer Haigh

The News from Spain: Seven Variations on a Love Story — Joan Wickersham

Flashes of War — Katey Schultz

The UnAmericans — Molly Antopol (forthcoming in Feb. 2014)

 

10. Favorite Book Cover

The Golem and the Jinni — Helene Wecker

Honorable Mention: The Orchardist — Amanda Coplin

 

11. Most Memorable Character

Chava the golem in The Golem and the Jinni by Helene Wecker; Agnes Magnusdottir in Burial Rites by Hannah Kent; Ava Lark in Is This Tomorrow by Caroline Leavitt.

 

12. Most Beautifully Written Book

The News from Spain: Seven Variations on a Love Story — Joan Wickersham

The Orchardist — Amanda Coplin

Glaciers — Alexis Smith

 

13. Book That Had the Greatest Impact on You

Dear Life — Alice Munro

 

14. Book You Can’t Believe You Waited Until 2013 to Read

Change it slightly to AUTHOR you can’t believe you waited to read, and the answer is clearly Alice Munro. The first Munro book I read, Dear Life, was published in Oct. 2012, and I read it a month later.

 

15. Shortest and Longest Books You Read

Shortest: Glaciers — Alexis Smith (112 pages)

Longest: The Golem and the Jinni (512 pages)

 

16. Favorite Relationship in a Book You Read in 2013

Chava the golem and Ahmad the jinni in The Golem and the Jinni

 

17. Best 2013 Debut

Difficult choice! 2013 was a phenomenal year for debuts, and there are several I haven’t read yet that I’m confident would make this short list. I loved all of these books, which impressed me deeply with the quality and sophistication of the writing. But I suppose the one that made me keep saying to myself, “This woman can really write!” was The UnAmericans by Molly Antopol.

The Light Between Oceans — M.L. Stedman

The Orchardist — Amanda Coplin

The Golem and the Jinni — Helene Wecker

The Snow Child — Eowyn Ivey

Bobcat and Other Stories  — Rebecca Lee

Burial Rites — Hannah Kent

Flashes of War — Katey Schultz

The UnAmericans — Molly Antopol

 

18. Most Vivid World or Imagery in a 2013 Book

The Golem and the Jinni — Helene Golem

 

19. Book That Made You Cry (or nearly cry)

The Light Between Oceans — M.L. Stedman

The Snow Child — Eowyn Ivey

Burial Rites — Hannah Kent

 

20. Book You Think Was Overlooked

Sadly, too many good books were overlooked this year. But these strike me as criminally overlooked or underrated.

Nothing Gold Can Stay — Ron Rash

The News from Spain — Joan Wickersham

News from Heaven — Jennifer Haigh

Kind of Kin — Rilla Askew

An Unexpected Guest — Anne Korkeakivi

Flashes of War — Katey Schultz

Flora — Gail Godwin

The Rest of Us — Jessica Lott