Thursday, January 02, 2014

Into the "Tunnel"

Red LightsRed Lights 
by Georges Simenon

"Then where did they come from, all those things he said when he'd had a drink too many and started by attacking Nancy before assailing society as a whole?  They had to spring from somewhere.  The same phenomenon occurred each time, and each time his rebellion followed exactly the same course."  - Georges Simenon, Red Lights

What do you do when you are rushing toward the unknown, possibly a dangerous situation, and you are unable to stop? Georges Simenon takes us through just such an experience in this novel as we join Steve Hogan as he begins an unexceptional Labor Day weekend sharing a drink with his wife Nancy before they head north to Maine to retrieve their two children from Summer Camp. What we know is that Steve has premonitions about the trip almost from the beginning and that he has a problem with alcohol. What we don't know is how serious and dangerous a trip it may become. Simenon succeeds in creating a seemingly mundane life for Steve and that makes the suspense which builds throughout the story even more effective.

The power of the novel comes from this suspense and from the psychological portrait of solitude and alienation that is slowly created moment by moment as Steve struggles, yet continually slips inexorably into danger and out of control.  
"He called it "going into the tunnel," an expression of his own, for his private use, which he never used in talking to anyone else, least of all to his wife.  He knew exactly what it meant, and what it was like to be in the tunnel; yet, curiously, when he was there he never allowed himself to admit the fact, except for occasional brief instants, and always too late."
Steve thinks about this behavior as the narrative builds through precise detail his journey in this "tunnel" of his own making.  Moreover he meditates about his and other men's ability to live life outside of the tracks of a normal life that most people, especially women, follow. His thoughts about  this and his rationalization of his drinking combine to lead him into very dangerous territory. Yet developments in his relationship with his wife over which he has no control loom as an even larger problem for him. The question ultimately becomes one of whether he can change his very out of control direction in time to save both his own life and that of his family.

Simenon lived in the United States for just a few years and set nine of his American novels on the east coast. This novel, due in large part to an attention to realistic detail, reads like the work of a writer who had lived here all his life.

This is a Goodreads update review.

1 comment:

Brian Joseph said...

Reckless, crazy behavior, and the thought processes that accompany it often make for good literature. If the character is well crafted, and that sounds like the case here, the results can be even better.