Best Fiction of the Decade: Bad Marie by Marcy Dermansky (2010)

A series of posts on my most unforgettable, must-read books of the past decade.

Image by Tentes from Pixabay

I can’t resist a good end-of-decade list, especially when it involves books. This decade was full of great reads and in this series of posts, I thought I would revisit some of my favorites published during the past 10 years.

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. 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, Ellen’s 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 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 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 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. I read this in just a matter of a couple hours. Started this after dinner and was finished well before bedtime. 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.

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Writes about books, GenX, politics, life. Currently working on a memoir. www.melissafirman.com

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