Bad Marie by Marcy Dermansky (review copy)

Jane Austen famously wrote, “I am going to take a heroine whom no-one but myself will much like.”

Wow.  If Jane was worried about whether readers would take to Emma then Marcy Dermansky, author of Bad Marie, must have been throwing back shots of Jack the week before her novel came out.  Because, honestly, I can’t imagine anyone liking Marie.  Not even on her best day.

From the beginning, we know Marie spent the last 6 years in prison for fleeing to Mexico with her bank robber boyfriend.  After her release she shows up at the doorstep of her childhood frenemy, Ellen, looking for a job.  She lasts 3 weeks as nanny to Ellen’s daughter, Caitlin.   No one, not even Marie, is surprised when she is fired.  Ever resourceful, she proceeds to run off to Paris with Ellen’s silk kimono, her French husband and 2-1/2 year old Caitlin.   That’s where things start getting interesting:  as the threesome begin their life on the lam with Ellen closing in from behind.

Dermansky took a chance on Bad Marie and it paid off.   She has created a one-of-a-kind, psychologically complex character who is living a life that (to the rest of us) resembles a train wreck.  Marie makes impetuous decisions.  Marie expects other people to take care of her, believing herself entitled.  She lives in a fantasy world of her own making and has no qualms about who she drags along with her.  In fact, the only person Marie seems to care for, other than herself, is Caitlin.  But (brilliantly on Dermansky’s part) even that sometimes comes across as strained.  There are wonderfully crafted scenes where I was left considering how long that love would last should Marie really have to grow up and take responsibility for the child.  Dermansky built “tells” into her character that make her that much more real, mental ticks where we learn that all is not right and probably never will be.  Our heroine is unreliable – in more ways than meet the eye.

“Who are you?” Benoît said.

Marie had forgotten, in a way, that Benoît Doniel was still there.  That they were talking to eachother.  She had begun to think about Mexico, how simple it was there.  No money had been required to live in that small oceanside village, though Juan Jose had had a suitcase full of just that.

Marie looked at him, irritated.

“What did you say?”

“I’m sorry,” he said.  “I have no idea who you are.  Half of the things you own, you have stolen from my wife.  You have my daughter in your lap.  She seems to like you.  And my life is ruined.  And I am not sure how this happened.  Because you fell in love with my… book.”

Marie nodded.

His life was ruined.

He did not know who she was.

Marie’s beer was empty so she reached for his…

The way Marie uses people reminded me of a sociopath (which is not synonymous with serial killer – despite what television would have us believe).  But to be fair, more times than not she is used in return.  The people she encounters seem to have no problem objectifying her.  They pick her up and drop her as it suits their needs and desires, make her their pet project,  project upon her what they want her to be.  In many ways it’s an even exchange.  And while Marie could very easily become a victim, I prefer to think of her as an opportunist.  It’s not about ambition, but survival.  This is how she instinctually operates.  In the end you’ll realize that there’s nothing simple about Marie.

This novel should come with a surgeon general’s warning it’s so addictive… for all the wrong reasons.  Personally, I wasn’t looking for a happy ending.  Marie kept digging herself deeper into a hole.  One she isn’t capable of getting herself out of.  But I couldn’t stop reading – and laughing!  Like cigarettes, alcohol, too much sun and good-looking people with foreign accents (I could keep going) – Marie is definitely bad for you.  Which is exactly what makes Bad Marie so damn good.

Note:  Levi Asher at LitKicks interviewed Marcy Dermansky last week and has a different (and valid) take on Bad Marie that I found very interesting.  He also spends more time than I do on the relationship between Caitlin & Marie – which is one of the most delightful (I wish I could think of a better word, but “delightful” fits perfectly) parts of the story.  I recommend checking it out.

Publisher:  Harper Perennial, New York (2010)
ISBN:  978 0 06 191471 3

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