Sunday 24 April 2016

Red Lights

Finished April 16
Red Lights by Simenon, translated by Norman Denny

This dark novel is unusual for Simenon in that it was set in the United States, rather than France. On the Friday evening of Labor Day weekend, Steve and Nancy Hogan, meet as the always do in a small bar in downtown Manhattan for a drink before heading to their home on Long Island. The couple is a bit unusual for their time as Nancy went back to work after having children and is a well-paid executive assistant at a Madison Avenue firm.
This evening they are waiting for the worst of the traffic to stop before driving up to Maine to bring their two children back from summer camp. For some unstated reason, Steve has a bit of an attitude, drinking at first secretly and then more openly as they drive north. Nancy finally has enough of this, and tells Steve that she won't go on this way. When he pockets the keys, he returns from a bar to find her gone, likely to the crossroads ahead to get a bus. He follows, but has missed the bus and when he drives on, loses his way. As he continues driving on in the rain and dark, and his mind grows more confused, he goes over his resentments in his head, and we learn of his life and his wife's.
At one point Steve agrees to drive someone else north, someone he clearly suspects to be an escaped convict, and when he stops after getting a flat tire, loses consciousness. When he wakes the next morning, he finds himself alone and with his wallet gone. Phoning ahead to the camp, he finds that Nancy has never arrived, and as he realizes what must have happened to her, he finds his life forever changed.
The drinking and driving is definitely an element from another time. The novel was set in the early 1950s, and first published in 1955. But the dynamic of resentment and guilt are still clear in today's world. This new edition has an insightful foreword by Anita Brookner. The cover on this edition has the right feel to it, but I would have liked it better if the cars had been from the right era.

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