Dirty Words: "Bad Marie" by Marcy Dermansky Is Very Good

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Run-DMC made it clear, in their song “Peter Piper,” the vernacular use of bad: “Not bad meaning bad, but bad meaning good.” That lyric played in my head not once during the reading of BAD MARIE by Marcy Dermansky. But just to be clear, the Marie of the title is bad, not meaning good, but then that’s your moral hangup.

The book opens with our lead working as an au pair for an old friend and, like many of us at the end of a long day, she wants to relax with a cigarette and maybe a tumbler of whiskey. Her two-and-a-half year old charge doesn’t care, she loves Marie. The two bath together. I wouldn’t be surprised if the kid starts bumming smokes in short time. 

Time is of the essence in this narration, not for Marie, who would prefer the status quo. And why not? She’s living in the basement of a Manhattan brownstone, with a refrigerator well-stocked and a equally ample bar. Maybe she has to pony up the smokes, but that’s a small price to pay for a life in the lap of luxury.

But, of course, good stories never know how to leave well enough alone, and this is a very good story. Dermansky keeps her pedal to the metal the whole trip of this brisk 200-odd paged novel. The couple who employ her discover their nanny passed out in the tub, naked with their daughter, and this leads to Marie’s termination. Before that, however, Marie has plans for the next stage in her life, and initiates them while still in the tub by slightly opening up her legs to give the husband a tease. Did I mention Marie is skinny with big tits? You can see where this is going. 

One of the pleasures of reading BAD MARIE is not how bad Marie is, but how in the moment she is. How single-mindedly focused on her own immediate pleasure. How honest, frankly, Marie is, for even when she humors a question of the ethical motivation of her actions the answer is always why not. That’s honest, in a way, a way you’d be best to stay away from. And Marie does leave the expected destruction in her wake. 

There’s more than a mere character study at play here, though, it’s highly enjoyable to follow Marie’s globetrotting anti-heroic adventures. At some point in my reading, and the prose is immensely readable and often blackly funny, I found that the succession of improbable coincidences that carries the plot forward weren’t serendipitous as much as mythic. It was as if I was reading a faerie tale, realistic as I imagine Homer’s or Ovid’s verses were at one time in setting for its audience and still fantastical in an execution that results in awe. 

That’s a heady brew, awe is, not a concoction easily cooked up, especially today with the popularity of that oxymoronic phrase “realistic fiction” or even ventures into a safe fantasy usually devoid of real human blood to give its Frankenstein’s monster life. While no gods or demigods roam the realm of Marie’s odyssey, the journey is no less remarkable and the creatures she encounters along the way no less grotesque. 

The book ends where it’s supposed to, but I only half joke when suggesting for a sequel. Marie can go on and on, like a force of nature, for that is what she is, an indelible character who I found myself falling for, cheering on to success, even as I wanted nothing to do with her. That’s a powerful creation, a paradox worthy of life itself. So, if you’re reading this Marcy Dermansky, bring back Marie.

Buy "Bad Marie" here

Tagged in: marcy dermansky, bad marie

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