When Queens resident Leah Kaplan gets a phone call from someone she worked with in San Francisco a decade earlier, she can’t possibly foresee the strange events that are about to happen. The unexpected journey that takes her back to California and away from Hans, her husband of five years, is the driving force behind The Red Car, Marcy Dermansky’s odd and entertaining new novel.
Leah had yet to earn her MFA when she worked at the University of California’s Facilities Management Department, writing job descriptions for custodians and engineers. Shortly before Leah left, her boss, Judy, took her to lunch in her “dream come true”: a “blindingly red” sports car she had wanted all her life.
Flash forward 10 years, when a former coworker calls to say that Judy died in an accident involving the red car and has left the car to Leah. The novel then takes a surreal turn. Leah hears Judy’s voice in her head. She travels West for the funeral, where everyone from former colleagues to total strangers wants to sleep with her. Judy’s car may be possessed: First, it fixes itself; then people who drive it have trouble keeping to a safe speed. Then Leah begins to suspect that Judy’s death may not have been an accident.
Well before Dermansky mentions him, it’s clear we’re in the realm of Haruki Murakami: the staccato rhythm and short sentences; the presence of cats, if only in cartoon form on T-shirts; dialogue that’s not quite real speech. There’s even a Japanese motel clerk who, like many Murakami characters, is obsessed with American culture. If The Red Car doesn’t quite equal the bizarre beauty of the master’s finest work, it’s still a fun and addictive read. “Follow the signs,” deceased Judy advises Leah. Readers who do the same will enter a dreamlike world that is as familiar as it is skewed.