Red Lights – Georges Simenon, Translated from the French by Norman Denny, Introduction by Anita Brookner)

(Reviewed by JD Jung)


“I met a man in whom, for hours, I tried to see another me, another me that wasn’t a coward, a man I wished I could be like…”

Steve Hogan, and his wife, Nancy are driving from Long Island to Maine to pick up their kids from summer camp. It is Labor Day weekend so the traffic will be heavy and the roads dangerous.

Steve feels the need to keep stopping at various bars for a drink,and that irritates Nancy to no end. It’s the early 1950’s, and although driving while inebriated doesn’t have the stigma it has now, it is still illegal. And as now, the drinking is really to cover up what Steve is  feeling. He claims that he doesn’t feel like a “man”, and blames it on his wife and his life.

Nancy threatens to take the bus if he keeps drinking, but that doesn’t stop him from going into another bar. When he comes back to the car, she has left him a note. He’ll show her, as he travels further and stops at another bar.

He confesses his woes to unnamed customers at the bar, wishing to find someone to connect with. However one patron is not anonymous. He happens to be Sid Halligan, a convict on the loose who has escaped from Sing Sing. Coming back from another bar, he finds Halligan in his passenger seat holding a gun. As they drive on, Steve is conflicted with various emotions—yes, fear and anger, but also jealousy and respect for Halligan for not conforming to society.

“They’re hundreds looking for you along the roads and bawling your name in every news bulletin, and what do you do? You quietly drive on, smoking a cigarette, and you say ‘nuts’ to them!”

However, the events that ensue prompt a totally different type of self-examination and realization for Steve.

Though Red Lights was written in 1953 and first published in English in 1955, feelings will still resonate with today’s readers. Many issues don’t change, which is enhanced by author Simenon’s vivid detail and emotion. I could see these shady characters, dangerous, rainy roads and dingy bars just like I was watching it in black and white on the big screen.

As with many other books published by New York Review Classics, I suggest that you read the introduction after reading the entire story. It contains many spoilers, but analyzes the book. It also gives insight into this French author and his motivations.

Also, as with other New York Review Classics, this short book at only 144 pages will keep you captivated until the very end.

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