The Red Car by Marcy Dermansky


30163589When Leah’s former boss and mentor, Judy, dies in an accident and leaves Leah her most prized possession—a flashy red sports car—the shock forces Leah to reevaluate her whole life. Leah is living in Queens with a husband she doesn’t love and a list of unfulfilled ambitions. Returning to San Francisco to claim the mysterious car she blames for Judy’s death, Leah revisits past lives and loves in several sprawling days colored by sex and sorrow and unexpected delight. Through the voice of Judy, who advises from afar, the surreal nature of grief is made hauntingly evident as Leah is led toward a new sense of freedom.


I love this book.  It sucks you in and keeps you thinking and entertained with the slightest, happy “ooo, what’s this…?” at the back of your mind.  It’s the kind of read that’s perfect for book clubs, that you finish and immediately think, “I need to talk to someone about this!”

The good:

  • The characters are fully realized, interesting, and flawed in the small (and big) ways we all are.
  • Leah is a writer, something that usually puts up red flags for me.  I’ve read too many books where a writer character is a stand in for the author, garnering praise while getting the guy.  But not here.  The depiction is all too realistic – Leah goes to grad school but ends up in a mindless telecommuting job while chipping away at a book.
  • And while we’re on characters they run the gamut.  We have people of different ethnicities, sexualities, working jobs from humble mechanic to entrepreneur  extraordinaire.  Love it.
  • The novel is so grounded that little flights of fancy don’t stretch reality, just nudge it ways that widen your scope and keep you thinking.
  • Dermansky’s prose is simple but plumbs amazing emotional depths.  There’s some nice comic moments, too.  Here’s Leah, at the airport to board a last-minute flight to Judy’s funeral, still shocked dumb by the news.

I looked at my boarding pass to check my seat number.  I was in row 8.  That seemed like a very low number.  I went to the counter.  The woman looked at my ticket and told me that my ticket was first class.  I could board now.

“I am not first class,” I said.

The woman smiled at me.  “It can sometimes be considered a state of mind,” she said.  “But your ticket is first class, so you can board the plane.”

  • When you reach the end there’s just enough stuff left in the air to keep you thinking.  What happened after the last line?  Would so-and-so follow through with what they said they’d do?
  • The story fits the page length to a T and the pacing is impeccable.  I couldn’t put it down… not in the thriller “oh no what’s gonna happen” sense but in the “oh wow, what’s gonna happen” sense.

The not-so-good:

  • I can’t really think of anything to put here.  The Red Car does what it’s set out to do, wonderfully.  It makes me sad that Dermansky only puts out a book every five years or so, but for novels this awesome I will wait.

Thanks to Liveright and Edelweiss for providing a review copy.

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