It’s Friday evening on Labor Day weekend. Steve Hogan and his wife Nancy are meeting at their usual watering hole in Manhattan after work. From there they will drive home to Long Island and prepare for the trip to Maine where they will retrieve their children, who have been away at summer camp. Steve is hot and tired and more than a little annoyed that his wife whisked them out of the bar and on the road before he could unwind with a second martini. From this moment on, Steve is warring with himself and his wife, chafing under what he sees as oppression. He feels his wife infantilizes him, that she doesn’t give him the credit he is due as a man. He goes out to gas up the car and pick up cigarettes but he is still upset with his wife, so he willfully thumbs his nose at her by stepping into the bar for a double rye.
It’s a tense drive and after his second stop for a drink along the way, his wife states that if he steps foot in that bar, she will drive on to Maine without him. He sneers, puts the keys to his car in his pocket and strides purposefully in. When he returns to the car, she has gone, leaving a note that she will find her own way. From there, this taut tense novel takes us on a hellish ride and doesn’t let go until Steve and Nancy are changed forever. The slow burn of the opening pages turning to a kind of fever dream of desperation. I seriously could not put this book down. In Pierre Assouline’s fine biography of Simenon, I came across this quote from the man himself:
“In short, it was like living at highway speed for ten days without a break. At the end, I was exhausted as if I had driven for those ten days in the middle of Labor Day Traffic.”