Bad Marie by Marcy Dermansky
ďSometimes, Marie got a little drunk at work.Ē †
Right from this enticingly blunt first sentence, itís clear that this novel isnít your typical heartwarming tale of a New York City nanny. Drinking at work is only the beginning of Marieís bad habits, and from here to the very end of the book, Marie does one bad thing after another. Bad is a relative term, though, and while Marie herself definitely isnít good, Iím not quite ready to condemn her.
Bad Marie certainly isnít bad; itís actually quite the opposite. Itís a thoroughly enjoyable, deftly written novel about a character who has her own moral code and who is not ashamed of looking out for herself before all others. Marie has recently turned 30, and is embarking on a new life as a freshly released prisoner. Her six years in a cell werenít a total †nightmare; after her boyfriend and partner in crime killed himself in his cell, she found a numbing comfort in the routine and hard work of her job in the prison laundry, and escape in her favorite book, Virginie at Sea, which Marie stumbled upon in the prison library and read over and over, enthralled with the melancholy tale of a teenage girl who falls in love with a sea lion.
Homeless, alone, and adrift, Marie has nowhere to turn upon her release, until Marieís childhood best friend (and sometimes enemy) Ellen, whose life has followed a very different path than Marieís, hires Marie as a live-in nanny for her toddler, Caitlin. Marieís idea of babysitting involves placating her charge with food and long baths, so itís not a surprise that Caitlin adores her nanny. Itís certainly not surprising, either, that Ellenís husband soon falls under Marieís spell. By some oddly convenient coincidence, Ellen just happens to be married to Benoit Doniel, the author of Virginie at Sea, so Marie sees this turn of events as fated, making no attempt to resist the impulse to steal her best friendís husband. Itís not giving anything away to say that Marieís wicked ways convince Benoit to leave his wife, and the two of them steal Caitlin away to Benoitís hometown, which just happens to be Paris. Obviously, this is not a novel that aims to touch readers through a set of characters and situations they can relate to. This story is filled with unlikely circumstances and implausible coincidences, but if you can lay your skepticism aside, itís a slick, glamorous tale to be savored, like one of the long bubble baths Marie so enjoys.
Dermansky has mentioned in interviews that she was inspired by French films when writing Bad Marie, and this influence is very clear in the book. Every move Marie makes is cinematic, and the settings and characters are so vivid, they seem to be already on screen. Marieís adventures take her from her cell to a glamorous home in New York City, through the streets of Paris, and ultimately to the balmy shores of Mexico, with each locale described with a cinematographerís eye for composition and color. Scenes form in an organically picturesque way, opening with an image of Marie dozing in the bathtub with her glass of whiskey perched on the soap dish, Caitlin splashing between her legs, and Benoitís inner conflict clearly painted on his face as he witnesses this carelessly beautiful woman neglecting his daughter in such an enticing way.
Itís fitting for Benoitís stirrings of attraction to revolve around water, which is a catalyst for action and a backdrop to many of the novelís moments of melodrama. While itís tempting to try to read a deeper meaning into this fluid imagery, symbolism, like Marieís behavior, seems to be something that is better taken at face value in this work than something to be carefully analyzed. Through Marieís attempts at being a stand-in parent, we learn a bit about Marieís unsatisfactory relationship with her own mother, and questions of nature versus nurture wind through the bond developing between Marie and her pseudo-daughter. We see that Marie is not a monster through the care she shows Caitlin, and a few telling moments from Marieís past roll through her mind during her exploits with Caitlin and Benoit, illustrating events that may have led to her nearly entirely self-serving behavior, but Marie is not an introspective person, and she doesnít dwell on the effect these moments may have on her current actions. In turn, neither does the narrative, leaving the reader the freedom to analyze Marie as they see fit, or simply to read the story in the simple, hedonistic way Marie lives. Either way, the book is delightfully dark and surprisingly deep, perfect for curling up with as the days get shorter.
Bad Marie by Marcy Dermansky