Wednesday, January 12, 2011

An almost cosmic sadness

Despite the mildness of the air, he felt cold inside, and he searched fruitlessly for his tweed jacket or his raincoat. He had another lighter jacket in his suitcase. Going around to the back of the car, he opened the trunk, and his expression became one of stupefaction and dismay.

He was filled with a vast sadness that morning, an almost cosmic sadness. The suitcase was gone, but before its removal Nancy's things had been taken out of it — underclothing, sandals, and a swim suit lay scattered among the tools. The toilet kit, which contained among other things his comb, toothbrush, and razor, was also gone.

He did not attempt to think. He was just sad, and would have given a great deal to have things turn out less squalidly.

— from Red Lights, by Georges Simenon.

It's impossible for me to rank these books. Just when I think I've read the best Simenon ever, I read another one that's just as good.

So this one's a little different because of the American setting. There's an undeniable American feel to it: quintessential late-summer American suburban domestic. And Steve's a bit more of a jerk than the characters populating the other novels. Maybe this makes him more tragic too?

In brief, Steve and Nancy head out from New York to Maine, to pick up their kids from summer camp. Steve wants to stop for a drink (and then another) but that doesn't go over too well with Nancy. (Although, a lot of the not going over well is blown beyond proportion in Steve's head — she really doesn't say all that much. Steve gets the vibe from her presence, her look — from working himself up.) Steve's basically picking a fight with her, and being a big jerk about it, after building a case against her in his unspoken thoughts addressed to complete strangers, and in defense of a man's got a right to have a drink now and then if he wants.

Steve makes yet another stop, but when he comes back out from this roadside bar, Nancy's not in the car. And now things spiral totally out of control. Really. There's an escaped convict, and also a nosy telephone operator. Gripping stuff.

It's less a mystery than a psychological study of this couple with their petty squabbling. But Steve has issues too. For example, that his wife works and is relatively successful. (It's worth noting also that she would be less valuable as a wife if she were less good-looking.) He's emasculated, and drinking is one way to assert his manliness. But it all goes so horribly wrong.

But then there's redemption! (Of a sort, for Steve.)

We experience the goings on from Steve's (in my opinion warped and unhealthy) perspective, but I would love to read Nancy's side of the story! I can't decide if she's mature and realistic and at terms with her life, or pitiful. Someone should write that novel for me please!


Emily said...

"He's emasculated, and drinking is one way to assert his manliness. But it all goes so horribly wrong."


You have me very intrigued with Simenon.

Guy Savage said...

Just wondering if you've seen the film version of this and also there's an excellent adaptation of the Engagment (Monsieur Hire)

Isabella K said...

I didn't know there was a movie of this. I must look it up. Thanks for the tip, Guy.

I remember seeing Monsieur Hire when it was released actually. What a thrill when I opened The Engagement to find it was that same sad story, with that same creepy little man.