Should you choose to read Marcy Dermansky’s polarizing Bad Marie (and I recommend that you do!), get ready for a wild ride. Anti-heroine Marie was the source of much pity, rage, sympathy and other varying emotions as I cruised through this fast-paced and unpredictable novel. But regardless of your final opinion of titular bad girl, Bad Marie teaches a lesson in love that is worth the read.
For a thirty-year-old ex-con, Marie’s life isn’t so bad. She’s managed to secure comfortable employment as the live-in nanny to a childhood friend’s daughter, Caitlin, and spends her days with the two-year-old taking lavender-scented bubble baths and eating copious amounts of macaroni and cheese. Unfortunately, however, Marie and Ellen, Caitlin’s mother, have a complicated relationship, and when Marie gets herself fired, it comes as no surprise that she doesn’t take it in stride. Marie promptly seduces Ellen’s husband and the two take off for Paris with the toddler in tow. Thus begins the licentious adventure of Bad Marie.
Unlike some readers, I never grew to love Marie, but I think I ultimately understood her. Certainly Marie is dealt a tough lot: her mother is unloving and her relationship with Ellen is fraught with envy and resentment. However, instead of overcoming her predicament, she wallows in it, using it as an excuse for bad behavior.
At first, Marie’s relationship with Caitlin isn’t much different. Marie frequently drinks on the job and disregards Ellen’s rules. But then, sensitive to the toddler’s unabashed dependence on her, Marie’s love for the child takes over. Though she puts Caitlin’s interests ahead of her own begrudgingly at first, Marie begins to do it instinctively and then tragically as the novel comes to its close.
In addition to the endearing Marie/Caitlin relationship, I also enjoyed the fish-out-of-water motif that permeates Bad Marie. In nearly every setting save prison, Marie is the outcast. As a child, she was a charity case in the company of Ellen’s family; in college, she was the only student that didn’t understand Ulysses; and as an adult, she’s a felon living with successful New York professionals. Dermansky effectively symbolizes Marie’s black sheep status as the English-speaking American struggles to communicate with both friends and strangers in their native lands. As a result, Marie’s relationships with these characters weaken irrevocably.
Marcy Dermansky’s gem Bad Marie is a quick, but memorable, read. I look forward to hearing more from this quirky writer in the future.