One More for the Road with Disastrous Results in: Red Lights by George Simenon
Updated: Apr 8
In this edgy short story, Simenon, the Belgian author known for the Inspector Maigret series, explores the consequences of an alcoholic's thirst for more.
Steve Hogan, is heading from Long Island to Maine with his wife, Nancy to pick up their children from camp. It's Labour Day weekend, but there is no holiday merriment here. Stuck in traffic, the couple's tension increases. Steve turns off the main road and decides to stop for a drink. Nancy warns him that if he does stop, she will not wait for him, and will proceed by bus to the camp. Emboldened by her threat, he stops goes into the seedy bar, leaving her in the care. Inside the bar, Steve strikes up a conversation with a man, who he suspects is the escapee from Sing Sing prison. When Steve finally goes back to the car, Nancy is not there. The next day, when he calls the camp to check on the children, he finds out that Nancy still has not arrived. Steve begins his search for her amidst the torment caused by his anxiety, guilt and a strangely, calm alcohol buzz that also compels him to stop again and again for another drink and pick up a creepy hitchhiker - who happens to be the man from the bar. Steve's journey is a dark and disturbing exploration of the urges of man, decisions we makes and consequences we live with and create for others.
Simenon coined the phrase 'roman dur' to describe this genre of 'hard novel,' which is somewhat of a gritty, psychological novel. The tight writing and static action creates suspense and high stakes in this 145 page story, as Steve's thirst competes with his search for Nancy and his dealings with a menacing hitchhiker.
Set in 195os United States, this hard novel provides numerous cultural references for the time - such as landlines and archaic terminology to identify races, which also are a testament to how many advancements we have made in the last seventy years. There is also an equally edgy 2004 film by the same title, that is set in Bordeaux, France. This version is directed by Cedric Kahn and stars Jean-Pierre Darroussin and Carole Bouquet (who might be best known for playing Bond girl Melina Havelock in the 1981 James Bond movie 'For Your Eyes Only') and should not be confused with the 2012 film by the same title that stars Sigourney Weaver and Robert De Niro, and is about something completely different.
Fans of short stories and psychological explorations may also find these Simenon roman durs intriguing:
Monsieur Monde Vanishes
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