You know: in a foolish, undiscriminating way, I've been happy these last few months. I don't know why. I just am. I love my friends; I love my pupils; I love what I read; I -- dammit -- love my thoughts. I love the taste of oranges.
Thornton Wilder in a letter to Gertrude Stein, Aug 14, 1936

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

BOOK REVIEW: RED LIGHTS by Georges Simenon

Red Lights (New York Review Books Classics)Red Lights by Georges Simenon
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This is the third of Simenon's roman durs that I have read, and even though it is my least favorite so far I admire the lean prose and psychological complexity. But at times the story read like an episode of the Alfred Hitchcock Hour.

Steve and Nancy Hogan, Long Islanders who work in Manhattan, head out on Labor Day Weekend to pick up their kids at Camp Walla Walla in Maine. Even by the lax standards of the 1950's, when the novel takes place, Steve has a "drinking problem."  He sneaks extra drinks when his wife isn't looking, though she is hardly unaware of his habits, and once on the road he stops for quick shots at roadhouses along the way. He insists he drives better when he has had a few. At his first stop, he finds that Nancy has not waited for him in the car. She has left behind a note that she is taking the bus the rest of the way. Steve's drunkeness sidetracks his attempt to catch up with the bus. He stops at another bar to further "clear his head." He is drunkenly voluble with a silent man seated next to him at the bar. Although it stretches credulity is comes as no surprise that this man, whom Steve finds waiting in his car, is the armed-and-dangerous escapee from Sing Sing discussed on the televisions in the bar. Steve gives him a ride, blathering all the time about true manhood and the qualities he imagines he shares with the criminal.

The novel has attitudes towards alcoholism and sexual assault that will not sit well with contemporary readers, which is perhaps why the ambiguities at the end of the novel seem more unsatisfying that intriguing. But Simenon's style remains impeccable, and Steve's delusional drunken consciousness is presented in excruciating detail.

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