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moving under skies

NYRB Classics collector. Reads anything, so long as it's good. Sometimes historian. Frequently grumpy:  you've been warned. Also at aliceunderskies.tumblr.com. 

Bad Marie

Bad Marie - Marcy Dermansky

I see a lot of reviewers, here and elsewhere, excusing Marie her titular "badness" merely because she is easy to relate with, or because everyone else in the novel is worse. This is not a view I can even begin to understand: I felt like Dermansky did a good job of illuminating the alien corners of Marie's psyche, but never once did I manage to empathize with her enough to forget her crimes. Marie's actions are indeed reprehensible, but for me her "badness" lay more completely in her thoughts: her selfishness, immaturity, and narcissism. I don't like to play psychiatrist if the author isn't going to, but seen from the inside Marie's personality is, at the kindest, Borderline and, at the worst, sociopathic. The writing quality here is average, plot-driven (I read it back-to-back with "Why Did I Ever," a remarkably poetic book, so the straightforwardness of the prose seemed glaring in comparison); most characters are hastily sketched and completely inexplicable in their motives. I was willing to suspend disbelief on the latter point due to the narration mostly sticking to Marie's self-absorbed head, but since the book invites us to wonder at others' motivation--in particular whyever would Marie's childhood friend invite her into her home and trust her with her toddler in the first place??--it stuck out as a major problem. This is an easy read, with no real philosophical or intellectual challenges: the biggest appeal, for me, was trying to discern what, exactly, in the writing or the characterization made the book palatable at all given Marie's oh-so-badness. I still haven't unpuzzled that one.It seems like people are so quick & willing to forgive and identify with Marie on the grounds that she truly loves her charge, the two-year-old girl she kidnaps. This, frankly, baffles me: sure, Marie says constantly that Caitlin is the love of her life, but it's pretty clear that: 1. Marie isn't the most reliable narrator; and (2) Marie's "love" for Caitlin is utterly selfish, based on how it makes her feel rather than the . She thinks she loves Caitlin because Caitlin makes her feel special, and because loving Caitlin and being loved by her is a way to win the apparently lifelong competitive friendship with Ellen; whenever the kid acts like a real, fickle, tired, traumatized baby Marie pendulum-swings to irrational dislike. Hell, she abandons Caitlin on a Mexican beach because the poor, heat-stricken, kidnapped baby screams "no!" to Marie's affection !! I am not saying that this wasn't interesting to read--Marie's relationship with Caitlin was one of the most fascinating aspects of the novel--but it hardly strikes me as a redeeming love, and certainly nothing to soften my heart. After considering the above I take back my charge that there is no philosophy in this book, and am upgrading it a star. There is philosophy here: Bad Marie is a clever moral challenge to the reader from the title onwards. Is Marie "bad?" (She doesn't seem to think so.) What, if anything, can exempt and redeem the sort of objectively "bad" behavior (adultery, kidnapping) that Marie engages in? How far are readers willing to compromise their own morals in order to satisfy the innate need to identify with a story's protagonist? These are fascinating questions to me; if I had an ideal bookclub this title would definitely be a pick: it's a book to get a person thinking.