With each new novel, Marcy Dermansky deploys her "brainy, emotionally sophisticated" ( New York Times ) prose to greater and greater heights, and The Red Car is no exception.
Leah is living in Queens with a possessive husband she doesn't love and a long list of unfulfilled ambitions, when she's jolted from a thick ennui by a call from the past.Read more...
With each new novel, Marcy Dermansky deploys her "brainy, emotionally sophisticated" (New York Times) prose to greater and greater heights, and The Red Car is no exception.
Leah is living in Queens with a possessive husband she doesn't love and a long list of unfulfilled ambitions, when she's jolted from a thick ennui by a call from the past. Her beloved former boss and friend, Judy, has died in a car accident and left Leah her most prized possession and, as it turns out, the instrument of Judy's death: a red sports car.
Judy was the mentor Leah never expected. She encouraged Leah's dreams, analyzed her love life, and eased her into adulthood over long lunches away from the office. Facing the jarring disconnect between the life she expected and the one she is now actually living, Leah takes off for San Francisco to claim Judy's car. In sprawling days defined by sex, sorrow, and unexpected delight, Leah revisits past lives and loves in search of a self she abandoned long ago. Piercing through Leah's surreal haze is the enigmatic voice of Judy, as sharp as ever, providing wry commentary on Leah's every move.
Following her "irresistible" (Time) and "wicked" (Slate) novel Bad Marie, Dermansky evokes yet another edgy, capricious, and beautifully haunting heroine--one whose search for realization is as wonderfully unpredictable and hypnotic as the twists and turns of the Pacific Coast Highway. Tautly wound, transgressive, and mordantly funny, The Red Car is an incisive exploration of one woman's unusual route to self-discovery.
Publishers Weekly® Reviews
- Reviewed in: Publishers Weekly, page .
- Review Date: 2016-08-01
- Reviewer: Staff
In the sleek and polished third novel by the author of Bad Marie, aspiring novelist Leah receives the bequest of the titular vehicle from her former boss Judy, killed when a driver runs a red light. Leah, 33 and unhappily married to the perhaps too-conveniently villainous Hans, whom she married when they were both graduate students and he needed a green card, takes off from Queens for San Francisco to retrieve the car. There follows a series of surreal adventures with old coworkers, a college friend “worth insane amounts of money,” a hippie mechanic, and a motel receptionist, as Leah begins to imagine the possibility of a happier future for herself. Dermansky’s short, punchy chapters keep the tightly written novel moving smoothly along, and flashbacks to her past add depth without slowing momentum. When fantasy elements—such as the fact that Leah constantly hears the deceased Judy talking to her, as well as the alleged “haunting” of a car that wants its drivers to exceed the speed limit—threaten to steer the novel off course, the author brings it sharply back in line with snappy dialogue and a great ending. (Oct.)
A long drive
When Queens resident Leah Kaplan gets a phone call from someone she worked with in San Francisco a decade earlier, she can’t possibly foresee the strange events that are about to happen. The unexpected journey that takes her back to California and away from Hans, her husband of five years, is the driving force behind The Red Car, Marcy Dermansky’s odd and entertaining new novel.
Leah had yet to earn her MFA when she worked at the University of California’s Facilities Management Department, writing job descriptions for custodians and engineers. Shortly before Leah left, her boss, Judy, took her to lunch in her “dream come true”: a “blindingly red” sports car she had wanted all her life.
Flash forward 10 years, when a former coworker calls to say that Judy died in an accident involving the red car and has left the car to Leah. The novel then takes a surreal turn. Leah hears Judy’s voice in her head. She travels West for the funeral, where everyone from former colleagues to total strangers wants to sleep with her. Judy’s car may be possessed: First, it fixes itself; then people who drive it have trouble keeping to a safe speed. Then Leah begins to suspect that Judy’s death may not have been an accident.
Well before Dermansky mentions him, it’s clear we’re in the realm of Haruki Murakami: the staccato rhythm and short sentences; the presence of cats, if only in cartoon form on T-shirts; dialogue that’s not quite real speech. There’s even a Japanese motel clerk who, like many Murakami characters, is obsessed with American culture. If The Red Car doesn’t quite equal the bizarre beauty of the master’s finest work, it’s still a fun and addictive read. “Follow the signs,” deceased Judy advises Leah. Readers who do the same will enter a dreamlike world that is as familiar as it is skewed.