Deceptively Simple

By Shelley SalamenskyJuly 22, 2011

Bad Marie by Marcy Dermansky

MARCY DERMANSKY'S WORK RECALLS that of Alain Robbe-Grillet, pioneer of the French nouveau roman, as well as that of the Brazilian writer Clarice Lispector, with a soupçon of the films of Jean-Luc Godard thrown in. Yet her recent novel, Bad Marie, has been widely received as chick-lit.

Its existentialist anti-heroine, fresh out of jail, steals a baby and takes off for Paris. She is reminiscent of Godard’s winsome, mischievous femmes fatales, or even the puckish Jean-Paul Belmondo himself; for some reason, though, reviewers have placed Marie among the ordinary, relatably flawed all-American female protagonists of The Nanny Diaries or Sophie Kinsella’s Shopaholic. It is perhaps for this, as well as the novel’s incontestable entertainment value, that Bad Marie has been classed among the beach-reads rather than the far more challenging works with which it ought to be keeping company.

Some may recall Dermansky’s work from a classic McSweeney’s production — Issue 4, a collection of pamphlet-bound short stories packaged in a cardboard box — or her previous novel Twins. Like these earlier works, Bad Marie is human, deeply-felt, delightfully well-honed, and though stylized, stops short of quirkiness for quirkiness’ sake. In Bad Marie Dermansky’s modus operandi is even clearer than it was in her early writings: she presents a deceptively simple plot through declarative, faux-naïf, or fairy-tale language and angles so oblique as to render not only the tale but the reading experience provocatively fresh. Or French: 

He was ridiculously French. The extra butter, the coffee in a bowl, his accent. To further prove his Frenchness, Benoît smoked while he ate…Lunch. A threesome. A family. Benoît smoked. He sipped his coffee…This pleased Marie.

Bad Marie functions through what might be termed “stealth experimentalism.” It is so breezy and enjoyable that one may simply fail to note that it exercises not just the heart but the mind.


LARB Contributor

Shelley Salamensky is a contributing editor to the Los Angeles Review of Books and has published in The Believer and elsewhere. Her book The Modern Art of Influence and the Spectacle of Oscar Wilde will be published in January 2012. She teaches at UCLA.


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