Lorrie Moore's novel A Gate at the Stairs falls into…
I don’t know Marcy Dermansky, but I have to imagine the novelist behind the ridiculously delicious joy-ride Bad Marie spent a lot of time bent over a keyboard cackling as she pulled the wings off her title character.
Fiction just got fun again, friends. This is the kind of book you sprint through, only to realize everyone else is doing it wrong. Writers are taking themselves — not to mention their characters — far too seriously.
Lets start where Dermansky starts: With a glass of whiskey and a bathtub, which she says in the novel’s version of a director’s cut is the image that inspired the book.
Marie just got out prison after a six-year stint for abetting a criminal. She didn’t actually hate her hard time, which included a monotonous job in laundry, three squares a day, and hours in her bunk re-reading the novel Virginie at Sea, a one-hit wonder by the French author Benoit Doniel. Marie appeals to Ellen, a well-to-do friend from childhood with whom she has a very complicated give-take-take-take relationship, and ends up nannying for her 2-year-old daughter Caitlin. But! Ellen’s husband, it turns out, is Benoit Doniel! When the couple comes home and finds Marie drunk, passed out in the bathtub with their daughter — and Benoit seems appropriately distracted by her big wet breasts — Marie decides to give him the humpty-hump treatment. She commits to this extra-hard the next day when Ellen takes her out to dinner to tell her she’s fired.
Marie’s final days on the job are all very sexy and whirlwind. Baguettes, Ellen’s red kimono, and trips to Central Park. Coffee from a bowl, Benoit murmuring in French-lish. Caitlin nonplussed by the image of her father and her nanny bumping faces. Instead of spending a final day together wading in tear-stained nudity, they pack up some organic string cheese and jet off for France together with Caitlin.
The honeymoon period doesn’t last a day.
From here, Dermansky takes this hussy without a conscience and beats the shit out of her in a handful of new, surprising, and yes, improbable ways. I’d like nothing better than to sit in a room with four other people who have read this book and flush out why Marie emerges from this novel more likable than when we started, despite the ever-growing resume of bad behavior.
As far as I can tell, this novel has been under-read. Released in soft cover, reviewed by the likes of Elle, but not by major book media. Quite a bit of blog chatter from women who preface their critiques with information about receiving a review copy of the book.
I can’t imagine the NYT Book Review could review this, then look at themselves in the mirror in the morning. Pan it, and they are self-righteous dicks. Like it too hard, and they would risk being taken seriously in the future. They would have to address the implausibility, and show concern about how a recently-released convict had such speedy access to a passport. They would suck the ample life out of the novel by thinking about it too hard, which is precisely what no one should do while reading it. Which is fine.
Bad Marie makes for a fantastic cult classic. Something passed along between friends and raved about in dark booths of Chinese Restaurants. Our little secret.