Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Book Review: Bad Marie, by Marcy Dermansky

Bad Marie
by Marcy Dermansky
Harper Perennial
212 pages

With a title like Bad Marie, you might have guessed that this chick Marie is a bit of a hot mess. 

And you would be quite correct, for in the span of 212 pages and - what, a month's time? - Marie manages to get herself into more situations of a criminal nature than one would think would be humanly possible.  (Which is probably not much of a surprise, given that Marie is newly-sprung from prison after serving six years as an accomplice in a failed bank robbery.) 

When we first meet Marie, she's 30 years old, just out of prison, working as a nanny for her childhood friend's daughter ... and in a drunken sleep in her friend Ellen's bathtub, with the 2 year old she is responsible for splashing blissfully away in the same tub.  That sets in motion the chain of events that is this novel, beginning with Marie's manipulations and machinations to snare Ellen's husband for herself.  You see, the husband just so happens to be none other than the French novelist Benoit Doniel, author of Marie's all-time favorite book Virginie at Sea which sustained Marie during her stint in the slammer.

Don't think Bad Marie didn't know that before landing on her friend's doorstep - and into her tub.

It sounds all a little far-fetched, but you know what?  It all works in this novel.  To go into much detail about the plot and Marie's actual crimes would lead to a spoiler-laden review, and I don't want to do that.  Just believe me when I say that not much is beneath Marie.

She's a bit of a maddening-yet-sympathetic character, someone you just want to shake and say "what the hell are you thinking?!?!"  Meanwhile, she's taking you on a ride, always with the promise that things will finally work themselves out, and you find yourself feeling a little sorry and compassionate for her at times, which is not at all logical because she is a felon to the nth degree, for God's sakes!  The woman has some serious issues going on and probably could benefit from talking with a professional.  Some medication might not hurt either. 

We all know someone like this, don't we?

That's what makes Marie such a flawed but likeable character.  We're all guilty of Marie's number one crime: that of believing that things appear better in our fantasies and in our expectations than in our reality.  Marie has always wanted to travel to France (with her literary author crush, no less!) but the experience isn't exactly what she was expecting. 

This is a character-rich novel, and Marcy Dermansky does a brilliant job with Marie.  But the story is also laden with symbolism.  The presence of water and also of milk were symbols that struck me as being particularly poignant.  Whenever Marie is in a crisis and unsure what to do, she turns to water as a healing force. Taking a bath, visiting the sea lions at the Central Park Zoo, going on a ride along the Seine, buying a goldfish, wading knee-deep into the ocean, her strong connection to the book Virginie at Sea - these last two bringing to mind Virginia Woolf, her fragile emotional state, her suicide. 

And with the frequent presence of milk - toddler Caitlin's beverage of choice, bowls given as nourishment to a scrawny cat - Dermansky uses milk as a symbol to illustrate that Bad Marie really does have some maternal tendencies, despite the lack of a mother's love in her own life.  There's mention of her mother not picking her up when she was released from prison and how she can't go back home to her mother's house; when she needs her mother the most, she's unable to receive the sustenance and nourishment, the protective ambiotic blanket (water) and maternal love (milk) that she craves and desperately holds on to when all else fails.

Bad Marie may fail as a person, but Bad Marie as a novel is incredibly well-written and captivating.  Like others, I read this in just a matter of a couple hours.  Started this after dinner and was finished well before bedtime. It's the perfect Read-a-Thon book as the plot moves quickly, the writing is smooth, and the characters are ones who can't help kidnapping you for a few hours and taking you along on their crazy ride.

What Other Bloggers Thought:

Devourer of Books
In Spring It is the Dawn
Jenn's Bookshelves
Linus's Blanket
My Books, My Life
The Book Lady's Blog
Reading and Ruminations
Reviews by Lola

copyright 2010, Melissa (Betty and Boo's Mommy, The Betty and Boo Chronicles) If you are reading this on a blog or website other than The Betty and Boo Chronicles or via a feedreader, this content has been stolen and used without permission.


Beth F said...

I purposely avoid reading reviews of books that I know I'm going to review soon so I can write with a fresh mind. It's so interesting that we touched on some of the same scenes and topics.

Yes -- water is definitely a constant thread. I hadn't thought of the milk, but once you mentioned it, I have to agree.

Amy said...

I've seen so many reviews of this book that have me waffling about whether I would enjoy it or not. For now I'm avoiding.... but it does sound like it has a lot of interesting things in it.