Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Bad Marie

A few years ago, I met Marcy Dermansky at Housing Works and she gave me Cate Blanchett’s copy of her novel Twins.

That is, Marcy had been on her way to a screening and had thought that, perhaps, if she got near enough to Cate Blanchett, she would give her a copy of her book. But, she didn’t get near enough and she met me instead. So my unprepossessing paperback copy bears the distinction of have been intended, albeit somewhat haphazardly, for a movie star. We have since become friends, trading stories of our daughters and going swimming on facebook, so it didn’t take much begging to get her to send along an advance copy of Bad Marie.

There are movie stars in Bad Marie, too. And, like Twins, this is an utterly delightful gobble of a book. I am not a fast reader, but I did gulp this up in a day.

It’s a wonderfully silly book—you have to just go with its utterly improbably donnée: that Marie fell in love with a French novel about sea lions in prison, that her girlhood rival has married the novelist, and that, upon her release from prison, Marie insinuates herself into their lives as the babysitter. Once you’ve gone that far, then following Marie as she hops onto a jet to Paris with the husband and toddler in tow is nothing—and such great fun. I am all in favor of farce, and this book delivers. There is something very La Cage Aux Folles about the whole thing: like one of those crazy French bedroom farce films from the 70s and 80s.

I remember dragging a boy to see Jupiter’s Thigh in 1982, a movie in which adulterous French archeologists jumped in and out of bed with each other on a race to find out what statue a fragment belonged to. All along, it was thought to be the femur of a small statue of Jupiter but, in the movie’s final shot it’s revealed that, all along, it’s been the penis of a larger statue. Dumb, but unforgettable, and kind of worth it. ­Bad Marie is better than that—it’s anything but dumb—but it offers the same kind of wild, reckless pleasure.

I love the first line: “Sometimes, Marie got a little drunk at work.”

I like this scene, a confrontation between Marie and her employer/rival. They are at a restaurant and Marie has just been given notice: “They still hadn’t touched their shrimp rolls. She stared at the fresh plates of steaming hot food, almost helpless before it. She would be unable to make a heroic gesture. She would have to eat everything, drink her beer, order another. She would let Ellen pay for her meal.”

I like Marie’s comparison to life on the run with her bank robber boyfriend and this version of it, toddler in tow: “Marie was stunned by the déjà vu. The leaving fast, the ridiculous thrill of leaving everything behind. This time it was slightly more complicated. Marie was traveling with juice cups and diapers, organic string cheese. A child. A stroller. This must be a sign that Marie must be growing up.”
Wonderful! The skewed perspective of a girl who thinks that her impulsive kidnapping is a step ahead of her impulsive running away years ago. As in Twins, Marcy does a great job of depicting reckless young women, failed by their parents in some fundamental way, trying to grow up, but also following every impulse. Her heroines are not timid girls, ambitious girls, or planners. They see a boy, like him, and take off their shirts. For a quiet girl like me, even reading such a book is a kind of revelation. Really? Do people just do that? I feel like Strether: Oh, it’s too late for me, but, goodness! the things I’ve seen really do show me something about how to live…

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