When I first saw The Red Car by Marcy Dermansky I immediately got a line from Shania Twain’s “That Don’t Impress Me Much” stuck in my head.
“I can’t believe you kiss your car goodnight. Come on baby, tell me, you must be joking right?”
The thing about Marcy Dermansky’s The Red Car, is that this isn’t a “guy who is obsessed with his car” story. No, this book turns that on its head, and shows two women commiserating in friendship. But one of them loves her red sports car.
Leah is living in Queens with her possessive husband Hans, who she doesn’t love, and a long list of unfulfilled ambitions. Then Leah is jolted out of the haze by a call from her pass. Her former boss, and best friend, Judy has died, and has left Leah with her most prized possession: her red sports car. But, the red sports car is also the instrument of Judy’s death.
As Leah heads to San Francisco to claim Judy’s car, she reminisces about the mentor she never expected who encouraged her dreams, analyzed her love life, and eased her into adulthood over long lunches. In the days that follow, defined by sex, sorrow, and unexpected delight, Leah searches for the self she abandoned years ago.
Through this self-reflection, the voice of Judy haunted her, providing a wry commentary on Leah’s every move.
I was unfamiliar with Dermansky’s work when I picked up The Red Car, and I didn’t know what to expect. I also can’t recall ever really reading a road novel like this, where a character is at a crossroads in their life. I think this book hit me at just the right moment though, because once I started reading this book I couldn’t stop, and I didn’t want to put it down.
The Red Car is a novel about self-discovery and the paths we decide to take, or don’t take in life. A lot of the book is bittersweet and reflective.
It’s hard not to love the main characters Judy and Leah, who are ordinary in almost every sense of the word. Their relationship feels very real, tangible. They have a mentor/mentee bond that feels really realistic, and I like how Marcy Dermansky captures that.
While we only get Leah’s perspective on events, her point of view feels so real that I can’t help but laugh or not at some of her statements.
In a way, it sounded like Leah was narrating her life in an oral tradition. At times, her thoughts seem organized, at other’s she goes on tangents that seem unrelated. She leaves details of certain parts of her journey out, but remembers some things in crystal-clear technicolor.
But in some ways she responds with the same dubious thoughts as I would. Take this exchange for example when Leah recounts seeing Judy’s red car for the first time:
Judy had once told me she wanted to go to Hawaii. She told me she wanted to paint large canvasses. A mural. This, this was just a car. I wasn’t sure why, but I knew I didn’t like it. It was a feeling I had. I shivered. (Page 30)
But aside from how beautifully rendered Leah is, Dermansky’s prose is so beautiful that this book is a joy all around. Her descriptions of San Francisco and the locations that Leah visits imbues a sense of wanderlust that makes me want to get on the plane and have an adventure.
But really, this novel is about a woman who is displaced, and she needs to find a new normal. We’re with her on a transitionary journey, but it’s a journey I was happy to be on with her.
I will be honest, I didn’t expect to like The Red Car as much as I did, but as I was reading it, I couldn’t stop turning the page. I can’t pinpoint if that’s because Leah is a hot mess or because I found this plot genuinely intriguing. It’s a very different book than any that I can remember reading and that makes this book stand out to me.
FINAL RATING: 5 Stars